A mammogram is an X-ray of the breast that is used to screen for breast cancer. During a mammogram, the breast is squeezed tightly between two large plates. Flattening the breast in this way helps the radiologist — a specialist who reads these images — see abnormalities. For some women, especially those with smaller breasts, this process can be uncomfortable. The mammogram technician can help position your body in a way that minimizes this brief discomfort.
Group Health Medical Centers also offers digital mammography, which may be better for women who have dense breast tissue, are under the age of 50, or are pre-menopausal. Digital mammography tends to be more sensitive than film-screen mammography, and higher in contrast. In addition, the image can be seen right away, rather than having a piece of film that has to be run through a processor, and the data can be transmitted via computer for immediate consultation. This prompt confirmation of a good image may prevent the need for repeat testing — and increased exposure to radiation.
If digital mammography is not available, it's important to get a film-screen mammogram. Both are well proven to reduce breast cancer mortality.
If a screening mammogram shows an area of concern, a diagnostic mammogram may be ordered. More X-rays are taken from various angles to better visualize the suspicious area of your breast.
The best time to start having mammograms, and how often you should get tested, is a personal choice. At Group Health Medical Centers, we recommend beginning at age 50, but the timing may depend on whether you have a personal or family history of breast cancer. We provide a variety of information and interactive tools that will help you think through your personal risk factors and prepare yourself for a discussion with your doctor.