Diagnostic Mammogram : Making A Difference

There are two different types of mammograms. A diagnostic mammogram is done when a woman has symptoms of breast cancer or breast lump. A screening mammogram, on the other hand, is done for women who have no symptoms of breast cancer. Physicians recommend screening mammography once or twice every year for women, beginning at age 40.

The Mammogram, or mammography, is the most accurate test for breast cancer. Approximately 90% to 95% of breast cancers are detected with mammograms. Mammograms can detect cancers before you can feel them during physical breast exams. According to the American Cancer Society, women with regular mammograms reduce their risk of dying from breast cancer by more than 60%.

Mammography is a specific type of imaging that uses a low-dose x-ray system for examination of the breasts. The results are recorded on film that your health care provider can examine. A screening or diagnostic mammogram look for breast lumps and changes in breast tissue that may develop into problems over time. Breast lumps or growths can be benign (not cancer) or malignant (cancer).

How to prepare for a screening or diagnostic mammogram?

  • Make your mammogram appointment one week after your period. Your breasts hurt less after your period.
  • Do not wear deodorant, talcum powder, or lotion under your arms or on your breasts on the day of the exam.
  • Describe any breast symptoms or problems to the technologist performing the exam.
  • Notify your doctor if you are pregnant or breast-feeding.

How is a screening or diagnostic mammogram performed?

You will be asked to undress from the waist up. Depending on the type of equipment used, you will either sit or stand.

The technologist will position you in front of a special x-ray machine to image your breasts. She places your breasts (one at a time) between two plastic plates. The plates press your breast and make it flat.

You will be asked to change positions slightly between images. The routine views are a top-to-bottom view and a side view. The process is repeated for the other breast.

The examination process should take about half an hour. When the mammography is completed you will be asked to wait until the technologist examines the images to determine if more are needed.


About 70% of American women who are diagnosed with breast cancer survive it. The earlier a cancer is found, the better a woman’s chances are of getting effective treatment. Thus effective prevention including regular breast self exams and regular mammograms could spell a whole lot of difference.

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