Mammography is a low-dose x-ray used to assess breast disease in symptomatic women and as a screening tool in the wider population. Mammography can show small cancers up to two years before a lump is palpable, and when combined with FNA or biopsy can determine whether a lump is cancer or benign. Early detection increases the overall effectiveness of cancer treatment.
Around10% of all breast cancers will not be identified by mammography alone. Ultrasound is often used to further assess breast tissue and improve detection rates.
The key difference between a screening mammogram and a diagnostic mammogram is the reason why a mammogram is requested. A screening mammogram is for review of asymptomatic women taken either once a year, or every two years. In women aged 50-69 years, a screening mammogram is the best way to detect unsuspected cancer at an early stage.
A diagnostic mammogram is used to assess suspected abnormalities, such as a lump, nipple discharge, change in breast size or shape, or implant rupture.
At Mackay Radiology our mammography and ultrasound equipment, and image processors are subject to quality assurance programs to ensure we maintain high standards, for optimal patient care.
Please ask patients to bring any previous, relevant mammography or ultrasound films and reports so that the radiologist can compare imaging and more accurately assess any changes since the last examination.
For mammography, the radiation dose a patient receives is very low. The radiographer will set the equipment for the lowest dose of radiation possible, while still achieving high-quality images. Mammography is generally safe for women with implants, but there is a very small risk that the pressure placed on the implant might cause it to rupture.
If your patient is pregnant or suspects that she may be, we recommend the patient waits until after delivery to have a screening mammogram. Please add that information to the clinical information section of the request form, so that our staff know.
If a diagnostic mammogram is needed during pregnancy, the radiation dose is very low and does not affect the developing child. The radiographer will place a lower abdomen lead apron over the patient to help reduce radiation exposure to the fetus.
During a mammogram
A qualified radiographer will take one or two x-rays of each breast, which will be positioned and compressed between two flat plates, for around 15 seconds. The patient might feel uncomfortable, but compression of the breast tissue improves image quality and shows abnormal tissue more clearly. Occasionally, additional x-rays are taken to further define areas not well seen on the initial x-rays.
All Mackay Radiology radiographers are accredited and licensed by Queensland Health and the Australian Institute of Radiography. We follow the guidelines for Quality Control Testing for Digital Mammography (Version 3) set out by the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Radiologists in August 2012.
After a mammogram
Two experienced radiologists will interpret and report on the mammogram, and ultrasound if that was performed and provide the doctor or specialist who referred the patient with a comprehensive report about the findings. We will advise the patient to return to the person who referred them to discuss the results.
Processing and reporting of images could take up to 24 hours. If you are a registered a referrer you can access your patient’s digital x-rays, scans and reports through our secure online archival system, or view the films we provide. For more information about registering to access patient images visit the Access Medinexus Portal section.
For mammography, any hardcopy images and report can generally be delivered to the referrer, by lunchtime on the second working day. Patients should book any follow-up appointment at least two days after the mammogram, to enable two radiologists to review the films.