Mammography is a specialised imaging technique used for the early detection and diagnosis of breast cancer. It involves taking X-ray images of the breasts to identify any abnormal changes or potential signs of breast cancer. Mammography is an important screening tool that has helped reduce mortality rates by detecting breast cancer at an early stage. Here’s some important information about mammography:
The primary purpose of mammography is the early detection of breast cancer. It can identify small breast tumours or calcifications that may not be felt during a physical examination. Early detection allows for prompt treatment and increases the chances of successful outcomes. Mammography can also help evaluate breast abnormalities, such as lumps, changes in breast size or shape, or nipple discharge.
Mammography involves compressing the breasts between two X-ray plates to obtain high-quality images. The compression helps spread out the breast tissue, ensuring that all areas are visualised and reducing motion during the procedure. Two standard mammography views are typically taken for each breast, known as the craniocaudal (CC) and mediolateral oblique (MLO) views. Additional images or views may be taken if necessary or if there are specific areas of concern.
Screening vs. Diagnostic Mammography
There are two main types of mammography: screening and diagnostic.
- Screening mammography is performed on women with no apparent breast abnormalities or symptoms. It is usually recommended as a routine test for women in specific age groups or those with certain risk factors. Screening mammography can help detect breast cancer at an early stage, even before symptoms are noticeable.
- Diagnostic mammography is used when a woman has specific breast symptoms or an abnormality has been identified through screening mammography. Diagnostic mammography provides more detailed images and allows for further evaluation of the breast tissue. Additional imaging techniques, such as ultrasound or breast MRI, may be used in conjunction with diagnostic mammography to provide a more comprehensive assessment.
Digital Mammography and Tomosynthesis
Digital mammography is an advancement over traditional film mammography. Instead of using X-ray film, digital mammography uses electronic detectors to capture and store the images digitally. Digital mammography offers several advantages, including improved image quality, faster image acquisition and the ability to manipulate and enhance images for better visualisation. Tomosynthesis, also known as 3D mammography, is an extension of digital mammography. It involves taking multiple X-ray images of the breast from different angles, allowing for the reconstruction of a three-dimensional image of the breast tissue. Tomosynthesis can help improve the detection of small cancers and reduce false-positive findings by providing a more detailed view of the breast tissue.
Screening mammography guidelines may vary depending on the country and medical organisation. In general, it is recommended that women undergo regular mammography starting at the age of 40 or 50, depending on the specific guidelines and individual risk factors. Women with a higher risk of breast cancer may be advised to start mammography earlier or undergo additional screening methods, such as breast MRI or ultrasound.
Compression and Discomfort
Mammography requires breast compression to obtain clear images. While the compression can cause temporary discomfort or pain, it is necessary to spread out the breast tissue and improve image quality. The discomfort is typically brief and the technologist performing the procedure will work to minimise any discomfort.
Mammography is a vital tool in the early detection of breast cancer. It is recommended that women discuss the benefits, risks and appropriate screening schedule with their healthcare providers to determine the best approach for their individual circumstances. Regular mammograms, along with breast self-examination and clinical breast examinations, contribute to the early detection and successful treatment of breast cancer.