Diagnostic Unilateral Mammogram
Mammography is an imaging modality that uses low-dose X-rays to visualize your breast tissue. It is often used as a screening test to detect cancerous changes in your breast even before the development of the symptoms so that cancer is detected and treated earlier, resulting in better survival chances. The doctor advises a diagnostic mammogram if he suspects the possibility of breast cancer due to your symptoms, such as a new or evolving breast lump, nipple changes or discharge, skin puckering, etc. A diagnostic mammogram provides more detailed images enabling a doctor to decide the future course of action. In addition, the newer advanced mammogram machines can create 3- dimensional images (breast Tomosynthesis) compared to two-dimensional images provided by regular mammogram machines.
Why and when do you need this test?
Breast cancer is the most common cancer in females. Some centers recommend screening mammograms after the age of 40 years to detect cancerous changes early. If your doctor suspects the possibility of cancerous tissue in your breast or the result of the screening mammogram indicates the presence of cancer, then a diagnostic mammogram is ordered to provide a clearer picture that can help the doctor to decide if you need more tests to diagnose cancer—for example, breast biopsy.
Some of the indications for the diagnostic mammography of a unilateral breast (one breast) include the following;
- Lump in the breast
- Abnormal or bloody nipple discharge
- Changed appearance of the breast, skin, or the nipple
- Suspicious lesion on screening mammography
- Family history of breast cancer
- If you are found to have genetic mutations, such as BRCA1 and BRCA2.
Do you need to prepare for the test?
You may need to take care of the following things before a mammogram;
- You may need to wear loose, easy clothing as you will need to expose your breasts, or you may be given a gown by the hospital to change into.
- You should remove jewelry or any metallic items embedded in your dress.
- You should inform your doctor if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or have breast implants.
- Try not to book your mammogram one week before or during menstruation, as the procedure may feel uncomfortable due to tender breasts.
- It is advised not to use perfume, deodorant, body powder, or lotion, as the particles in these products can interfere with the X-ray results.
What can you expect?
- You will be asked to stand in front of the mammogram machine.
- You would be made to expose one of your breasts and place it on a horizontal supporting plate.
- Then, the technician will bring the parallel plate close to your breast and press against it to compress it.
- The compression of the breast is necessary to prevent the movement of your breast and to even out the shape of the breast.
- You will be positioned to enable the best exposure of the breast and hold your breath
- If the breast is tender, you may feel some discomfort during the procedure.
- After the exam, you may return to daily activities normally.
- The procedure lasts for about 30 minutes but may take longer.
Are there any risks to this test?
This test uses a very low dose of radiation that are generally safe. However, it can harm a developing fetus, so it is unsafe for pregnant women.
What do the test results mean?
The radiologist or sonographer will send a signed report to your doctor. A diagnostic mammogram can detect masses, calcifications, or asymmetries. It can also detect a special type of cancer called ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) that develops in the lining of the breast duct and appear as linear microcalcifications instead of a mass. Based on your mammography results, your doctor would be able to tell you if you need more tests to diagnose cancer, like a biopsy, MRI scan, etc. The masses that are detected may be benign (mostly) or cancerous.
The abnormal results may include;
- Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS)
- Fibrocystic breast disease
- Benign breast tumor (fibroadenoma)
- Intraductal papilloma
- Breast fat necrosis,
- Breast cancer
- Breast abscess
- Breast cysts
Other related tests may include:
- Ultrasound of the breast
- MRI of the breasts
- Biopsy of the breast