The Susan F. Smith Center for Women's Cancers at Dana-Farber provides a variety of services to help patients and their families cope with the many physical, emotional, and spiritual challenges of a cancer diagnosis and its treatment. We are committed to helping patients regain a sense of control over their lives and feel their best throughout treatment and beyond.
Why do I need to have a mammogram?
Doctors recommend mammograms because a mammogram is the most effective test in detecting breast cancer. A mammogram can often detect breast cancer before it can be felt during a physical exam of the breast. Long-term studies have shown that using mammography does increase detection of breast cancer. An annual breast exam by a health professional is strongly recommended to compliment the mammogram. These guidelines may change as new scientific information becomes available.
What is a mammogram?
A mammogram is an x-ray of the breast. It can reveal tumors too small to be felt by hand and can show other changes in the breast that doctors believe may suggest breast cancer.
Mammography involves at least two films of each breast (one taken from the top, one taken from the side). The breast must be pressed very tightly between two plates for the pictures to be clear. The compression may be uncomfortable but it only lasts a few seconds and is imperative for the examination to be interpreted properly. Additional views are often necessary for further clarification.
Why does my breast need to be compressed? And why so tightly?
Compression is the key to a good mammogram examination. Compression allows for the image on the film to be clear. Immobilization of the breast reduces blurring caused by motion. The spreading of the breast tissue allows for suspicious lesions to be more easily identified. Compression also reduces radiation dose.
Who will be doing my mammogram exam?
A licensed, registered radiologic technologist performs the mammogram. The technologist has been specially trained in mammography and has passed an advanced level mammography exam given by a national board (The American Registry of Radiological Technologists).
Who will interpret my mammogram films?
A radiologist (a medical doctor specializing in the field of radiology) will be reviewing and interpreting your mammogram films. This review will be done while you are still in the radiology department. You will be asked to wait for this review to be complete in case additional films may need to be taken. It is the responsibility of the radiologist to determine if any additional films are required. Please be aware that the review of your films may take some time since the radiologist is also reviewing other radiology exams.
Radiologists who interpret mammograms have special training in this area. The radiologists are considered qualified to interpret mammograms based on guidelines established by the American College of Radiology. The radiologists are also certified by The American Board of Radiology.
Who gets the report of my mammogram exam? Can it also be sent to other doctors who treat me?
You will be given a Patient Mammography Report when your exam is complete. This report will be completed by the radiologist who has reviewed and interpreted your mammogram films.
This report will give you a brief description of the results of your mammogram. If you have questions regarding your results, you should discuss them with your doctor.
Your doctor will get a typed report a few days after your exam. The report of your mammogram exam can also be sent to other doctors who are treating you. If you do need a report sent to an outside physician, then you need to make arrangements with the Radiology receptionist at the time of your exam.
What are next steps if my mammogram finds a problem?
The radiologist will make a recommendation for follow-up of any problem found. You then need to discuss any recommendations with your doctor. You and your doctor will determine what steps need to be taken in follow-up. You may also discuss the results of your mammogram study with the radiologist if you have any questions.
What does it mean if my mammogram is read as "normal"?
It means that nothing abnormal was found on your mammogram exam. A normal mammogram does not exclude all possible breast problems, particularly if you have a new lump. A mammogram must be considered as only part of a complete breast evaluation that includes a physical breast exam. You should follow your doctor's recommendation as to when you should have your next mammogram. The recommendation regarding mammography frequency can be found at the bottom of your "Patient Mammography Report."
Could I have a breast ultrasound instead of a mammogram?
Ultrasound has not been proven to an effective method of detecting breast cancer. Ultrasound is often used in conjunction with mammography. The radiologist will determine if a breast ultrasound is necessary.
Should I be concerned about the radiation dose involved in a mammogram exam?
The American College of Radiology has determined dose values for mammography. A qualified radiation physicist evaluates our equipment and measures the amount of radiation used in a mammogram exam. This is to ensure that the exposure levels used do not exceed those set by the American College of Radiology.
Is there anything I should do to prepare for my mammogram?
Yes. Do not wear any powder, deodorant, lotions, or perfumes as they may interfere with the film image. Dress in comfortable clothing, preferably a two-piece outfit as you will be asked to undress to the waist. You will also be asked to remove any jewelry from your neck.