Mammography is an x-ray taken of the breast. The examination is both used as a screening and to invalidate or confirm a suspicion of breast cancer. Mammography is a pain free examination that has meant that the mortality of breast cancer has dropped.
What is mammography?
An x-ray is taken by the breasts to prove changes in the tissue that may be cancer.
What is mammography used for?
Mammography is used both as a screening, which means an examination of healthy people without symptoms and in the case of suspicion of breast cancer where the woman either has symptoms or hereditary risk.
Mammography screening: Used for proving cancer changes in such an early stage that the woman’s probability of being cured of breast cancer is biggest possible. The probability for having breast cancer increases with age. Experiences show that screening with mammograms has reduced mortality on breast cancer. Therefore the European Parliament recommends screenings every two years for women between 50 and 69 years.
Mammography in the case of suspicion of breast cancer: Used to examine whether it is breast cancer. Suspicion of breast cancer arises when the doctor or the woman feels a lump in the breast, if there are changes in the skin over the chest, if the nipple starts turning inwards, if fluids or blood seeps from the nipple, in the case of breast pains or if lumps are detected in the armpit.
Finally, mammography is also used with women where there is suspicion of hereditary breast cancer. With women with the hereditary breast cancer ‘BRCA mutation’ the risk is so high that special examinations are performed.
What happens during mammography?
The day before, you should avoid using a deodorant, powder or crèmes around the breasts and in the armpit. It may affect the images in the form of blurry shadows.
There is a difference how the mammography is performed depending on whether it is a screening or whether there is suspicion of breast cancer.
Mammography screening: Here, no doctor is present during the examination. Usually, the pictures are taken while you are standing up. The breast is lifted and placed on a plate. The breast tissue is adapted to the plate and folds of the skin are smoothed. An upper plate is lowered and the breast is pressed. The examination takes a few minutes. The images are assessed as quickly as possible. If there are changes in the images that indicate breast cancer, you are called in for further examinations.
Mammography in the case of suspicion of breast cancer: A doctor asks about the symptoms of breast cancer and performs an examination of your breasts. Depending on what the doctor finds during his examination, pictures may be taken like at a screening, ultra sound and possibly the doctor takes a sample of the lump in your breast. You are referred to the hospital for results. The examination can last up to an hour.
What can mammography show?
Even though mammography is a good examination, it is not 100% certain. Changes in the breast tissue can be difficult to interpret. If you find changes, you become – depending on the result – part of a larger course that is closely planned.
Is mammography dangerous?
No. During mammography the breasts are exposed to a very small amount of x-rays. The advantages of having the correct diagnosis made or detect breast cancer in an early stage is much greater than the risks.
Further reading on Lump in the breast