Female patient with the doctor A mammogram is a low-dose x-ray technique to detect breast cancer. Modern mammography provides the sharpest images available of the inner structures of the breast.

As a diagnostic tool, the most important function of the mammogram is to help the board-certified radiologist find breast tumors which are too small to feel during a physical examination. As a result, many breast tumors can now be found early, before they have spread to other parts of the body. This early detection can save lives.

A screening mammogram is designed for a patient with no problems or palpable abnormalities. The patient’s exam is performed by the technologist and the patient leaves after the technologist has confirmed that the images are technically satisfactory. If there is a technical problem or if there is a possible abnormality noted by the radiologist, the patient will be asked to return for further evaluation, possibly including additional x-ray and/or sonography. This allows for faster patient throughput and overall decreased cost to the patient.

The comprehensive/diagnostic exam is designed to answer a particular clinical question. The radiologist reviews the initial films and decides at that time if additional evaluation, including x-rays and/or sonography are needed. This further evaluation is done at that time and the patient is given her results by the radiologist. Comprehensive exams are also required for patients with complicated histories, i.e. post operative exams, breast implants.

The American Cancer Society, the American College of Radiology, and the American Medical Association recommend the following guidelines for screening mammography in women:

  • Baseline mammogram at or before age 40
  • Screening mammogram every year after age 40

These guidelines may change depending on your clinical history. Monthly breast self-examination for women age 20 and older is also essential for the early detection of breast cancer.