Mammography is an x-ray exam used to obtain images of the breast. It is a highly useful tool in the early detection of breast cancer because it can show abnormalities in the breast tissue before the patient or doctor can feel it. Screening and diagnostic mammography can aid in the detection and diagnosis of breast diseases, lumps, cysts and benign and malignant tumors. A mammogram is recommended once every year for women over the age of 40 to screen for breast cancer or any other breast diseases. Results can appear in a mammogram up to two years before they are visible by the patient or doctor. A mammogram may also be performed on patients who have detected a lump in the breast in order to further evaluate the area of concern.
During the procedure, the breast is placed on a small platform and compressed with a paddle while it is exposed to a very low dose of radiation. Images are then displayed on a computer screen or printed on special film. Digital mammography allows images to be produced by electrical signals similar to those used in digital cameras. These signals are converted into images that appear on the computer screen. The entire mammogram procedure takes about 30 minutes to perform.
A mammogram is considered to be a safe procedure for most women, including those with breast implants. Patients should advise their doctors if they are pregnant or have any pre-existing medical conditions.