Mammogram

  • Medical Author:
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

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Mammogram reminder breast cancer

Breast Cancer Early Signs and Diagnosis

How do physicians diagnose breast cancer?

The most common sign of breast cancer is a new lump or mass in the breast.

Although breast cancer can be diagnosed by the above signs and symptoms, the use of screening mammography has made it possible to detect many of the cancers early before they cause any symptoms.

Quick GuideDisease Prevention in Women: Essential Screening Tests Every Woman Needs

Disease Prevention in Women: Essential Screening Tests Every Woman Needs

Mammogram facts

  • Mammograms are images of the breast tissue produced on X-ray film.
  • Mammograms are the most efficient screening method to detect early breast cancer.
  • A mammogram only takes a few seconds and may be mildly uncomfortable.
  • An abnormal mammogram does not necessarily mean that a cancer is present; other tests, including biopsy, MRI, or ultrasound examination may be performed for further clarification of an abnormal mammogram.
  • A normal mammogram does not exclude the presence of cancer.
  • Screening mammography is performed at regular intervals to detect abnormalities.
  • Diagnostic mammography is a procedure that is performed when a screening mammogram is insufficient or a potential abnormality is detected and involves additional images of the breast.
  • Diagnostic mammography takes longer than screening mammography because more X-rays are needed to obtain several angles views of breast.

What is a mammogram?

A mammogram is an X-ray test that produces an image of breast tissue on film. This technique, called mammography, is used to visualize normal and abnormal structures within the breasts. Mammography, therefore, can help in identifying cysts, calcifications, and tumors within the breast. It is currently the most efficient screening method to detect early breast cancer. Physical examinations typically find breast cancers when they are much larger than those detected by mammography.

Mammography can be used to discover a small cancer in a curable stage; however, it is not foolproof. Depending a woman's age and other factors, approximately ten to fifteen percent of breast cancers are not identified by mammography, and these cancers are often found by physical examination. It is important for a woman to perform monthly BSE and have a breast examination by her doctor in addition to the mammogram in order to most effectively screen for breast cancer.

The American Cancer Society recommends that a woman obtain her first baseline mammogram at the age of 40. After that, she should receive a yearly mammogram. Women who are at high risk for developing breast cancer may need to obtain mammograms earlier than these recommendations and at more frequent intervals. Medicare, Medicaid, and most private insurance companies generally cover the cost of mammography.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 10/26/2015

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