What is a Mammogram used for?
A Mammogram is used to examine the internal structure of the breast (“Mammary Glad”) . A specialised X-Ray is obtained of the breast, and the X-Ray films are interpreted by the Radiologist. Accurate interpretation of Mammograms requires significant experience. At North Coast Radiology Group we have a team of highly skilled Radiologists who are able to not only interpret your examination with a high degree of accuracy but also provide a collegiate environment to cross-check examinations with.
The basic theory behind mammography is that different types of tissue stop x-rays by different amounts. In particular, breast cancers tend to stop x-rays much more than normal breast tissue. Also, some forms of breast cancer contain tiny flecks of calcium, which stop x-rays very well. These abnormal densities and certain sorts of calcification are what the Radiologist searches for.
You should also be aware that sometimes the breast tissue of some women can also stop x-rays very efficiently. This means that occasionally abnormalities are hidden, or masked inside normal tissue. In particular, the breasts of younger women often appear very dense on mammograms.
You should also know that the mammogram is very good at detecting small and subtle abnormalities that develop over time. It is therefore, very important to bring previous mammograms with you. The radiologist is looking for small changes, which by themselves may be unremarkable, but may be very significant if they were not there one or two years ago.
What is 2D and 3D Mammography
North Coast Radiology Group provides both 2D and 3D Mammography services – with 3D Mammography available at Women’s Imaging at St Vincents Hospital in Lismore.
2D Digital Mammography is the most common breast imaging method used in Australia. There are some patients for whom 3D Mammogrpahy (also known as Breast Tomosynthesis) is particularly suitable for example higher-risk patients compared with 2D Mammography.
3D Mammography examinations allow the breast tissue to be examined in thin ‘layers’, typically 1mm thick. This helps see through overlapping structures that may mimic or hide lesions on a conventional Mammogram.
North Coast Radiology currently has 3D Mammogram technology at its Lismore Women’s Imaging Branch.
How is a Mammogram Done?
The test may be uncomfortable for some people, but should not be the cause of terrible pain. You should understand that a compression plate is placed on the breast for very good reasons: to allow x-rays to pass through a thinner region which will decrease the x-ray dose and increase the accuracy of the test, and to move different parts of the breast off other parts of the breast, thus revealing hidden structures.
In 2D Mammography, two standard views are obtained: one from the top (“cranio-caudal” or CC) and one from the side (“medio-lateral oblique” or MLO).
Depending on what is found from these two, other specialised views may be required. For example, if the radiologist wants to better look at a small area of calcification, a magnified view can be obtained. It is important that you should not be shocked or worried that other mammograms are obtained. Most of the time, the radiologist is trying to either get a better look at something, or trying to move overlapping parts of the breast away from each other. Having extra views taken is NOT necessarily a bad sign.
In 3D Mammography the x-ray arm sweeps in a slight arc over the breast taking a series of images at various angles in just seconds.
3D Mammography can also be used for highly accurate placement of localisation wire in less time making for less discomfort for the patient and a high level of accuracy.
A Mammogram examination takes about 20 minutes. The actual image capture time for 3D is just a few seconds more compared with 2D Mammography thus minimising the period of discomfort.
Do Men have Mammograms?
Yes, Men can and often do have Mammograms. Men may have “lumps” in the breast, as women do. Most often, as with women, these lumps are not cancer, but caused by hormonal changes in the body. Rarely, a male breast lump may be malignant. One percent of all breast cancers occur in men.