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Centers for Breast Health

Diagnostic Mammogram

What is a diagnostic mammogram?

You have been scheduled for a diagnostic mammogram by your physician. A diagnostic mammogram differs from a routine screening mammogram because it provides a focused evaluation of one or both breasts because of your current breast health findings or your past breast health history. The focused evaluation may include additional views, magnified views, or additional breast imaging, such as ultrasound. Another difference is that the imaging evaluation will be completed while you are here. Please do not be alarmed as additional images or studies are performed; the number of images or procedures does not associate with potential findings. The interpreting radiologist will request that a thorough evaluation is done so that results and follow-up recommendations will be ready before you depart.

Because we attempt to provide information about your mammogram before your departure, your visit may be a little longer than a routine screening. Additional time is needed for the Radiologist to evaluate the films and compare them to previous studies and for the technologist and/ or radiologist to provide education and information about your results.

When is ultrasonography, or ultrasound used?

Ultrasound, also known as sonography, is a painless procedure in which high frequency sound waves are transmitted through body tissues by a transducer and the echoes are picked up and translated by a computer into an image. No radiation exposure occurs during this test. Ultrasound is not recommended as a routine screening tool. Mammography is the only FDA approved screening tool for breast cancer. Ultrasonography is best used for further evaluation of an abnormality noted by mammography. Ultrasonography is commonly used to evaluate lumps that can be felt or for further evaluation of an abnormality noted by mammography. This imaging procedure is useful to determine if a breast mass is solid or fluid filled, called a cyst. Occasionally ultrasound is used in pregnant women for whom mammography is not advisable, and for women with abnormalities and very dense breast tissue. Ultrasound is also used for guidance when a physician needs to locate a lump or abnormality for biopsy or cyst aspiration.

What is the risk of radiation exposure?

Many women are concerned about the amount of radiation exposure during mammography, especially if several views or additional images are taken. However,  mammography consists of low dose x-rays, usually 0.1 to 0.2 rad dose per x-ray. To put this in perspective, one mammogram exposes a woman to roughly the same  amount of radiation as flying from New York to California in a commercial airplane. Another comparison is the example of breast cancer treatments using high dose  radiation, consisting of several thousand rads. Mammograms do not increase the risk of breast cancer. Strict guidelines are in place to assure that the lowest possible dose of radiation is used during mammograms.

How do you get results?

You will receive an explanation of the findings before you depart. Your physician will receive a written report in 2-3 days, unless the report has been delayed for comparison to prior mammograms done at another facility. One to two weeks after the report has been completed, you will also receive a letter at your home indicating follow- up recommendations, including when to return.

What determines when you return for another mammogram?

It is common for the Radiologist to recommend an interval follow -up, sometimes called imaging surveillance, in 6-12 months for several visits, or until there is documentation of stability of the findings over time. However, because not all changes in the breast can be detected by mammography or imaging, it is important to notify your physician or health care provider if you discover something new or changed, even if you recently had a mammogram. A routine clinical breast exam by your healthcare provider is also critical for early detection of breast cancer.

How can you get more information?

Saint Thomas Health Services Center for Breast Health is dedicated to providing you with the information and support you need regarding your breast health care. The technologists, nurses, and radiologists are available to answer your questions and provide information about your breast health, conditions, or abnormalities. The center has a library with free literature, videos, and books for loan. Feel free to browse the library or request for more information. We recognize that breast changes and diagnostics tests can cause concern and worry. We are here to support you and address your concerns. Please feel free to ask questions. If you have questions after you leave the center, you may call 615-284-5239 (LADY). Please let us know how we can best serve you.