A mammogram a combination of X-ray images of the breast is a routine part of a breast cancer screening program. Physicians agree that breast palpation programs physically checking for lumps are generally insufficient for early breast cancer detection. Breast self examination programs are also unreliable as a lesion can develop for years before it becomes palpable. Women with higher than average risk factors and older women should generally have mammograms more frequently. Normally, the X-ray component of a mammogram is all that is necessary for breast cancer screening purposes. However, it is not a good idea to have an ultrasound instead of a mammogram and it is probably best to follow the advice of the screening physicians.
A mammogram image has a black background and shows the breast in variations of gray and white. Generally speaking, the denser the tissue, the whiter it appears. This may include normal tissue and glands, as well as areas of benign breast changes e. Fat and other less-dense tissue renders gray on a mammogram image. A radiologist will consider all of this when reviewing your mammogram images, but it's important to note that what's normal for one woman may not be for the next. For example, women with naturally dense breasts will have more white on their mammogram images, even if there is no disease present. The following are just a few examples of the variety of mammogram images a radiologist may encounter and how they are interpreted.
Some mammogram reports sent to women mention breast density. Your health care provider can also tell you if your mammogram shows that you have dense breasts. In some states, women whose mammograms show heterogenously dense or extremely dense breasts must be told that they have dense breasts in the summary of the mammogram report that is sent to patients sometimes called the lay summary. Dense breast tissue is common and is not abnormal. However, dense breast tissue can make it harder to evaluate the results of your mammogram and may also be associated with an increased risk of breast cancer.
We offer breast cancer screening for women at all levels of risk. Breast exams are the check-ups, mammograms, and other types of screening methods that you may have to find breast cancer before symptoms develop. Having breast exams on a regular basis can help detect breast cancer at its earliest, most treatable stages. Memorial Sloan Kettering has developed breast cancer screening guidelines to help guide you to which screening tests you might need, how often you should get them, and when to start.