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Types of Mammography and How They Differ


Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death among women in the United States, and about one in eight American women will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime. In 2015, an estimated 231,840 new cases of invasive breast cancer were expected to be diagnosed in women, along with 60,290 new cases of non-invasive breast cancer.

Your doctor has probably checked you for breast cancer during an appointment, but if you’ve never had a mammogram, you may have some questions.

What is a mammogram?

In the simplest terms, a mammogram is an x-ray image of the breast. There are two types of mammograms: screening mammograms and diagnostic mammograms.

  • Screening mammogram: This is used to check for breast cancer in a patient who shows no signs or symptoms of the illness. This type of test involves taking two x-ray pictures of each breast in order to detect hidden tumors or micro-calcifications that cannot be felt by a typical breast exam.
  • Diagnostic mammogram: This type of mammogram is used to check for breast cancer in a patient who does have a lump or other sign of the illness. Other signs include pain, thickening of breast skin, nipple discharge, or sudden change in breast shape or size.

What is digital mammography and how is it different from film mammography?

Conventional methods of mammography include storing the image on film. Digital mammography uses an electronic image that can be stored on a computer file. The digital image can be magnified or enhanced to make the evaluation of the x-ray a lot easier, thus producing more accurate results.

Digital mammography can be performed only in facilities or diagnostic imaging centers that are certified to practice conventional film mammography and also have FDA approval to perform digital mammography.

Example of a digital mammogram x-ray with an abnormality

What is 3D mammography tomosynthesis?

Three-dimensional mammography is a type of digital mammography that uses x-ray machines to take pictures of slices of the breast from different angles. Computer software is then used to reconstruct an image. This process for obtaining 3D mammograms is the same one CAT scanners use to produce images of internal structures.

Do you have any additional questions regarding breast cancer screening or 3D mammograms? 

Feel free to post in the comments section below. And remember, breast cancer is not just a women’s issue. A man’s lifetime risk of breast cancer is about one in 1,000, and about 2,350 new cases of invasive breast cancer were expected to be diagnosed in men in 2015 alone.

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