Mammography uses special X-ray images to detect abnormal growths or changes in the breast tissue.
Using a machine and X-ray film made especially for breast tissue, a radiographer compresses the breast and takes pictures from at least two different angles, creating a set of images for each of your breasts. This set of images is called a mammogram. Breast tissue appears white and opaque and fatty tissue appears darker and translucent.
In a screening mammogram, the breast is X-rayed from top to bottom and from side to side. A diagnostic mammogram focuses in on a particular lump or area of abnormal tissue.
Why do I need a mammogram?
A mammogram can help doctors decide if a lump, growth or change in your breast needs further testing. The mammogram is also used to look for lumps that are too small to be felt during a physical examination.
Why should I have a mammogram?
Mammography is your best defence against breast cancer because it can detect the disease in its early stages, before it can be felt during a breast examination. Research has shown that mammography can increase breast cancer survival.
How should I prepare for a mammogram?
Inform your doctor or the technician performing the test if you are pregnant or think that you may be.
No dietary changes are necessary. Take your medicines as usual.
Do not wear body powder, cream, deodorant or lotion on your chest the day of the test. These substances may interfere with the X-rays.
You will be asked to remove all clothing above the waist and you will be given a hospital gown to wear. You may want to wear a two-piece outfit the day of the test.
You will be asked to remove all jewellery.
What happens during the test?
Radiographers perform the test. A doctor specialising in interpreting imaging studies will interpret the X-rays.
You will be asked to stand in front of an X-ray machine. A radiographer will place your breast between two radiographic breast supports. The supports will be pressed together, gently flattening the breast. You may feel some discomfort or slight pain from this pressure, but it will only last for a few seconds while the X-ray is being taken.
Compression is necessary to obtain the clearest possible picture with the least amount of radiation. Your cooperation for these few seconds is important to get a clear picture. If you feel that the pressure on your breast is too great, tell the person performing the examination.
To minimise discomfort during compression, you could consider booking your appointment seven to 10 days after the start of your period, when your breasts are least likely to be tender.
The breast will be imaged in several positions to enable the radiographer to visualise all breast tissue adequately. For a routine breast screening, two pictures are taken of each breast. This examination takes about 20 minutes.