A mammogram is an X-ray image of the breast used by doctors to look for signs of breast cancer.
Our mammogram services are accredited by the American College of Radiology (ACR) as part of our designation as a Breast Imaging Center of Excellence. This means that you will work with medical professionals who are specially trained to perform and interpret your mammogram using the latest breast imaging technology. All of our mammograms are performed using digital breast imaging equipment.
Screening mammograms detect breast cancer early – before lumps or tumors are large enough to be felt. They also detect calcifications, which are deposits of calcium that may be an early sign of cancer. When breast cancer is found early, it is easier to treat.
The American Cancer Society recommends getting a mammogram every year starting at age 40 and then have another mammogram every year. Talk to your health professional if you have any symptoms or changes in your breasts, or if breast cancer runs in your family. He or she may recommend that you have mammograms before age 40 or more often than usual.
Diagnostic mammograms investigate breast changes after another symptom or sign of breast cancer has been found. You will need a diagnostic mammogram if you were previously treated for breast cancer or if you experience:
- A lump in your breast
- Thickening or change of the breast
- Abnormal results on a screening mammogram
- Nipple discharge or nipple bleeding
- Focal pain in your breast
- A change in breast size or shape
- A change in the skin or nipple appearance
A diagnostic mammogram is a mammogram that is dedicated to examining a specific concern. It usually involves more mammogram images and provides more detail than a screening mammogram.
Screening breast digital tomosynthesis (sometimes referred to as "3-D mammography") is currently being introduced at UNC Medical Center. It allows for additional x-ray images of your breasts to be obtained, allowing a better look at your breasts to find cancers that may be obscured by tissue. 3D mammography does not replace your regular annual digital mammogram. The tests are used together by the radiologist to review your study. Preliminary data suggest that tomosynthesis along with standard of care digital mammograms may increase breast cancer detection up to 40% and may decrease the rate of false alarms by 15%.
Mammogram: What to Expect
When you come to UNC Medical Center for a mammogram, wear a shirt that can be easily removed. Do not use deodorant, talcum powder or lotion on your underarms or breasts. If you have had a mammogram at a different facility, obtain and bring your past x-rays with you. If you cannot bring them with you, provide the name and address of the facility where the mammogram was taken.
Mammograms are quick and noninvasive. During the exam, you will stand in front of a special x-ray machine. A technologist will place your breast on a plastic plate andanother plate will firmly press your breast from above. The plates will flatten the breast, holding it still while the x-ray is being taken. You will feel some pressure. Good compression is essential for correct evaluation of your breasts. The other breast will be x-rayed in the same way. The steps are then repeated to make a side view of each breast. Your technologist will make every effort to help position you so the pressure is as comfortable as possible.
Your Mammogram Results
A radiologist trained in breast imaging will interpret your mammogram and a report and the results will be sent to your doctor. Your physician will share the results with you. Contact your health professional or the mammography facility if you do not receive a report of results within 30 days. If there is a concern, you will hear from the mammography facility earlier. Do not assume that results are normal if you have not gotten them back. If your mammogram shows an area of concern, the radiologist who read your study will suggest additional tests to get more information. If your mammogram is normal, you should continue to get regular screening mammograms.
When you get a mammogram at the UNC Medical Center or at one of its associated imaging sites, you will be informed if you have dense breast tissue. More than 40 percent of women have dense breast tissue, which can make cancer more difficult to detect. If you have dense breasts, you may decide to have follow-up screenings, like a breast MRI or a breast ultrasound.
Learn more about breast health services at UNC Medical Center.
Want to discuss with your healthcare provider supplemental screening options such as breast magnetic resonance imaging? More information on breast density can be found at https://www.med.unc.edu/radiology/breastimaging