A screening mammogram helps detect breast cancer in the early stages, before it has spread. Screening mammograms are recommended annually for women who are 40 years or older, as well as those who may be at higher risk for breast cancer (such as family history). The exam takes about 15 minutes and usually includes taking two radiographic images of each breast.
UC San Diego Health offers both traditional 2D mammography and also now digital breast tomosynethsis, also known as 3D mammography. With breast tomosynthesis, images of the whole breast are taken in slices at different angles, making it easier to see all around and between the breast tissues. These additional views differentiate tomosynthesis from a traditional mammogram. Because tomosynthesis separates breast tissue into thin slices, there is less overlapping of the breast tissue. This makes it easier to differentiate normal superimposed breast tissue from cancer. Tomosynthesis also decreases patient callback rates for additional testing.
A diagnostic mammogram provides a more detailed X-ray of the breast. It is used to further investigate suspicious changes found on a screening mammogram.
A diagnostic mammogram may be needed if there is:
- Breast pain
- Nipple discharge
- Skin thickening
- A lump
- Changes in breast size or shape
Mammograms: Important Things to Know
A Call Back
Does Not Mean Cancer
The majority of women have normal mammogram screenings. In some circumstances, patients are asked to come back for additional mammogram views and/or ultrasound. This does not mean that you have cancer or will require a biopsy, only that additional imaging is needed to evaluate an area. Our schedulers will call you to arrange an appointment for a diagnostic mammogram and/or ultrasound at the earliest opportunity.
If you need a biopsy or follow-up surgical consult, you will be referred to the
Comprehensive Breast Health Center.
10 Percent of Cancers Cannot Be Seen
Mammography is not perfect; about 10 percent of cancers cannot be seen with traditional mammography. If you have a lump, mass, or other specific problems related to your breasts, you should inform your primary doctor and make sure that you receive appropriate follow-up care.
Preparing for Your Mammogram
On day of your mammogram, it's important that you do not wear deodorant, lotion or powder. If you are breastfeeding, it is best to schedule your screening mammogram for at least three months after you have stopped nursing.
If you have had a mammogram at another center, please arrange with that facility to get a CD or original images of your mammogram. Bring these with you the day of your exam or you can mail ahead of time. We can also obtain your records from another facility for you (ask our office for the necessary forms).
Breast Density Notification
As of April 1, 2013, California legislation requires that all patients receiving a mammogram be notified if they have dense breast tissue. Dense breasts are normal. We have always reported breast density to your doctor, but are now mandated by the state to inform you as well. We encourage you to talk to your primary care provider about any further questions you may have.
Learn more about breast density and breast cancer risk.