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 your doctor requests mammography. 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.
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 you know you are pregnant or suspect that you might be you should wait until after delivery to have a screening mammogram. If a diagnostic mammogram is needed during pregnancy, the radiation dose is very low and does not affect the developing child. Wearing a lower abdomen lead apron will help reduce radiation exposure to the foetus. Talk to your doctor if you need more information.
Before a mammogram
Please avoid using talcum powder and underarm deodorant on the day of your mammogram, because some products cause a shadow or artefact on the mammogram. You can eat and drink normally on the day.
You’ll be more comfortable if you wear a two-piece outfit for your mammogram. The radiographer will ask you to remove all clothing and from the waist up and wear a gown. You may need to remove jewellery from the chest and neck region.
Please bring along any previous mammograms so that our radiologist can accurately compare films and assess any changes, since your last mammogram.
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. This may 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 you had that. Your doctor will receive a comprehensive report about the findings. You will need to return to the doctor who referred you to discuss your results. Book your follow-up appointment at least two days after your mammogram.