A mammogram is an X-ray of your breast, which doctors use to detect early signs of breast cancer. Regular mammograms can show breast abnormalities up to two years before they are felt with a physical exam.
When Should I Get a Mammogram?
Rush agrees with the American College of Radiology and the Society of Breast Imaging that all women at an average risk for breast cancer should begin annual mammograms at 40 years old.
Your provider may recommend earlier screening if you have a higher risk of breast cancer, including a family history or a mutation of the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes.
Also, mammograms should not replace physical breast exams. Rush providers recommend that you continue monthly self breast exams, physician exams during wellness visits, and annual mammograms for the best chance to detect breast cancer early.
Types of Mammograms
Mammograms are low-dose X-rays performed for either screening or diagnostic reasons.
- Screening: Performed when there are no signs or symptoms of breast cancer as part of a routine wellness check
- Diagnostic: Performed when there are breast cancer symptoms, you have had breast cancer in the past, your previous mammogram shows an abnormality or you have breast implants that can hide breast tissue and require additional images
At Rush, we use digital mammograms which can make it easier to identify subtle differences in healthy and abnormal tissues. These digital images can also be shared with providers electronically for more comprehensive care. Your provider will recommend either a 2D or 3D mammogram.
- 2D digital mammogram: A 2D mammogram compresses the breast and takes images from the front and side.
- 3D mammogram (tomosynthesis): Best for denser breasts, a 3D mammogram takes multiple images across the breast in an arc before computer software compiles the views into a 3D image. This image often gives a more comprehensive and accurate picture of the breast tissue and has a lower "call-back" rate for additional screening for abnormalities.
What Can I Expect During a Mammogram?
The actual mammogram imaging is an efficient appointment completed by a trained imaging specialist.
- Before your mammogram, you will change into a gown that opens in the front. You may wish to wear pants or a skirt (instead of a dress) as your bottom clothing will remain on during the exam.
- You will stand in front of an X-ray machine and a technician will place your breast on a plastic plate.
- During the X-ray, another plastic plate will press your breast from above, flattening and holding it until the image is captured.
- The technician will adjust you to X-ray your other breast in the same way.
- You will then wait as the technician confirms that the X-ray images were taken clearly.
- You will not receive the results of your mammogram during your imaging visit. Instead, your provider will follow up to discuss your results.
Are Mammograms Painful?
The flattening of your breast during the mammogram applies pressure that some women find painful. This pressure is brief, lasting about the time it takes to capture the X-ray.
Our highly trained technicians are focused on keeping you as comfortable as possible throughout your mammogram. They will explain every step of the process and will make adjustments for your comfort, while still getting the best images.
You may also want to not schedule your mammogram near the time of your period if your breasts are often swollen or tender during this time.
What Happens After My Mammogram?
A diagnostic radiologist who specializes in breast imaging will read your mammogram and report the results to you and your provider.
- Normal results: If your results are normal, your provider will recommend that you continue to schedule annual mammograms at Rush. Having your mammograms at the same center allows the radiologist to compare previous images and look for changes.
- Abnormal results: An abnormal mammogram does not necessarily mean you have breast cancer, but additional tests may be needed. Your provider will partner with you on the next steps to investigate and/or diagnose any abnormalities.
Other Breast Imaging Tests
Your provider may also recommend additional breast imaging screening to get a better picture of your breast health. These tests could include the following:
- Automated breast ultrasound (ABUS): ABUS provides a 3D reconstructed image of your entire breast, allowing our diagnostic radiologists to easily see through dense tissue, which can often hide small cancers on a digital mammogram. Adding ABUS to your annual screening increases your doctors' ability to find small, invasive breast cancers when they are most curable.
- Handheld breast ultrasound: Performed by a specially trained ultrasound technician, a handheld breast ultrasound is a non-invasive test that uses sound waves to take pictures of your breast. We often use ultrasound as a follow-up test after an abnormal finding.
- Breast MRI: Breast MRIs use magnetic fields to create breast images. They are most often used to screen women at a higher risk for breast cancer or for cancer diagnosis and staging. During this screening, you will receive a contrast agent through an IV in your vein before the procedure.
To schedule your mammogram or breast imaging service, call any Rush breast imaging center. You should also discuss your mammogram schedule with your OB-GYN, primary care physician or midwife.
Rush Excellence in Mammography
- Identifying cancer earlier, at treatable stages: The American College of Radiology sets 50% as its goal for detecting early-stage breast cancer through mammograms. At Rush, breast radiologists detect 85 to 90% of breast cancers at these early stages, a sign of our providers' expertise in detecting even the smallest cancers.
- Making mammograms convenient: Our breast imaging centers are often close to home and have convenient hours, including Saturday availability. Our centers are also staffed by board-certified radiologists who specialize only in breast imaging.
- A leader in breast cancer screening for dense breasts: Approximately 40% of women have dense breasts, which can hide small cancers, often undetectable with standard mammography. Rush offers automated breast ultrasound screening (ABUS) with your mammogram to more easily detect breast cancer in dense breast tissue. This test uses both X-ray technology and sound waves to create a 3D image of the breast that allows experts to see through dense tissue.
- Comprehensive screening for high-risk women: Rush also provides breast MRI — the most sensitive exam and best for detecting the smallest of breast cancers. We recommend this option most for women who are at higher risk of developing breast cancer.
- Highest standards of care: Rush's five breast imaging centers are designated as centers of excellence by the American College of Radiology. This designation recognizes Rush's expertise, advanced technology and commitment to the highest standards of breast cancer screening.
- Collaborative care: If our team suspects a breast tumor or breast cancer, we will work closely with our multidisciplinary team of breast cancer specialists to provide comprehensive and seamless care.