An x-ray of the breast, or mammogram, is used to detect cancer. A diagnostic mammogram produces more detailed images than a screening mammogram and is used when abnormalities are suspected. All women over the age of 40 should have regular mammograms.
A screening mammogram is the most typical type of mammography procedure. It involves x-raying the chest to search for any abnormalities. x-ray images of the breast are taken from two angles. If any abnormalities or suspicious areas are noted on the x-rays, the patient will be advised to have a diagnostic mammogram.
Unlike a screening mammogram, a diagnostic mammogram includes taking images of the breast from many different angles. Also, a diagnostic mammogram can produce detailed images of the specific areas where abnormalities were spotted during the screening exam. These images can identify the type and severity of the abnormality as well as its exact location.
Upon inspection of the high quality images provided by the diagnostic mammogram, it will often be seen that the suspected abnormalities are not suspicious or dangerous after all. Usually, in these cases the patient is requested to return in several months to have a follow up mammogram to make certain that no changes are occurring and that the abnormality is truly harmless. Sometimes the diagnostic mammogram confirms the existence of an abnormality such as a mass or calcification in the breast. In this case, the next step is a biopsy, which will determine whether the abnormality is cancerous or benign.
Although it may cause discomfort, there is no danger or lasting side effects associated with a diagnostic mammogram. In order to get a clear view, the procedure requires the breast to be compressed between x-ray plates. This can be uncomfortable or cause mild pain. It is, however, necessary to obtain a high quality image.
Awareness of breast cancer is important for every woman. Self breast examinations are easily done and should be performed by women throughout their lives, beginning in their teens, even though breast cancer is rare among those so young. The National Cancer Institute, in the US, recommends mammograms for all women over 40 years of age. The examination should be completed every one to two years. If a woman is at high risk for breast cancer, if she has had breast cancer in the past or if her family has a history of breast cancer, the frequency of and age to begin having mammograms may differ.