Breast cancer is one of the most common type of cancer in women in today's times, accounting for 1 of every 3 cancers diagnosed. A woman's chance of developing invasive breast cancer at some time in her life is approximately 1 in 8 (12.4%) and is one of the leading causes of cancer mortality among women all over the world. But because of early detection, appropriate medical intervention, and sequential postoperative treatment, breast cancer mortality has been decreasing with time. And one of the effective ways to detect and screen it in the initial period is Mammography.

Also Read: Breast Cancer: Causes, Symptoms And Treatment

What Is Mammography?

Mammography, also called mammogram or mastography is the process of using low-energy X-rays to examine the human breast for early diagnosis and screening. The preliminary target of mammography alongside regular clinical exams and monthly breast self-examinations, is the early detection of breast cancer, typically through detection of characteristic masses or microcalcifications.

Types Of Mammography

Depending upon the diagnosis, mammography is of two types:

Screening Mammography: It is the procedure that is done as a routine test to check for any cancer or changes in the breast.

Diagnostic Mammography: A procedure which is conducted if you have a lump or any other symptom of breast cancer.

While the process for both is same, diagnostic mammography is more extensive than screening mammography and may require more images than the screening.

Depending upon the process used, mammography is again categorized into 4 types:

Digital Mammography: This is a specialized form of mammography that uses digital receptors and computers instead of x-ray film to help examine breast tissue for breast cancer and detect it in the early stages.

3D Mammography: Also known as digital breast tomosynthesis (DBT), tomosynthesis, or 3D breast imaging, 3D mammography chiefly creates a 3D image of the breast using X-rays.

Photon-Counting Mammography: This process predominantly uses lesser dose of X-ray to create image than conventional methods. It mainly uses spectral imaging to further improve image quality, that helps to distinguish between different tissue types and to measure breast density.

Galactography: Also known as breast ductography, galactography is a type of mammography that is mainly used to visualize the milk ducts using a radiopaque substance that is injected into the duct system.

Who Should Go For Mammography?

Mammography is chiefly recommended for every woman above the age of 40, in every 1 or 2 years.  But in case, you have a personal or family history of breast cancer, the doctor may recommend you to start breast screenings earlier in life, and have them more often, or use additional diagnostic tools.

How To Prepare For A Mammography?

The person undergoing a mammography need to follow certain guidelines on the day of the procedure to avoid glitches in the report:

  • The person must not apply any deodorant, body powder, ointments, creams or perfumes on the breasts or underarms as they may create unnecessary white spots on the image.
  • The person undergoing the mammography is suggested to use the same facility every year to make comparison of the results easier. In the case, you are using a facility or diagnostic centre for the first time, do ensure that you carry your previous mammograms.
  • Make sure to describe the treating doctor or the technician about any breast symptoms or problems prior to the procedure.
  • Try not to conduct mammography the week before you get your period or during the menstrual cycle as your breasts might be tender or swollen at the time.
  • Do not forget to mention the treating doctor or radiologist in case you are pregnant or breast feeding, as it is not good to get exposed to X-ray during this time. But if necessary or depending upon the severity of the condition, the doctor can recommend other screening methods, such as an ultrasound.

Also Read: Pregnancy Test: What Is It And What To Expect?

How Is A Mammography Done?

A mammography test is quite a simple procedure. The patient or person undergoing the procedure is first asked to remove the clothes from the waist up and keep aside any jewellery items if the person is wearing. The breasts are then placed or fitted on a resting plate, and a compression device is used to push the breast down to flatten the tissue to get a clearer picture of the breast. The person may feel some amount of discomfort but it is usually temporary and does not cause any damage to the breast tissue. Typically, the technician takes two views of each breast. Once the films are developed, these radiographs are checked by the technicians for clinical accuracy before the person leaves.

How To Interpret The Results?

Once the procedure is conducted, the person will usually get the films within a week. The films are then examined by radiologists who have specialised training in the interpretation of breast images.

Apart from detection of cancer, a mammography can help find calcifications, or calcium deposits, in the breasts. It can also find cysts within the breast tissue which may come and go normally during some people’s menstrual cycles and also presence of any cancerous or noncancerous lumps. 

If the mammography is normal, continue to do the process every year as a routine check-up.

If the results are abnormal, the doctor may suggest the patient to go for additional mammograms, tests, exams or other imaging techniques such as MRI or Ultrasound. The doctor may also refer the patient to a specialist or a surgeon in case the procedure detects cancer and the person needs a surgery.