Are you due for your Mammogram?

by Any Mayr

Although early detection of breast cancer increases chances of survival significantly, mammography tends to be a scary topic for women. Some women put off getting screened because they’re afraid of the results, while others are simply trying to avoid the cost. As defined by the American Cancer Society, a mammogram is a low-dose x-ray that allows radiologists to look for changes in breast tissue. Understanding mammography procedures, the symptoms behind breast cancer, and the importance of getting regular screenings can help save women’s lives.

Criteria for Mammograms

Age. Some societies recommend starting at a later age to help reduce the amount of anxiety and “false positive results,” meaning a finding that it warrants further workup but ends up being benign. However, radiologists, including those at Doctor’s Imaging Group – an affiliate of North Florida Regional Medical Center (NFRMC) – follow the guidelines of the American College of Radiology, whom recommends 40 as the starting age.

Signs and Symptoms. It is important to keep an eye out for signs of breast cancer. The most common sign is a palpable lump. Feeling an abnormal lump in the breast tissue does not necessarily mean patients have breast cancer, but it is a common way in which breast cancer presents. In fact, most “lumps” are not breast cancer, but rather just normal fibrocystic breast tissue. Regardless, any palpable lump warrants mammographic evaluation and patients should inform their primary care doctor of any such finding. Other signs to look out for are redness in the skin of the breast, itchiness, swelling, change in breast size, or tenderness.

Note: Pain can occasionally be associated with breast cancer, however is generally related to musculoskeletal or hormonal issues. Pain that is localized to a smaller area is considered more suspicious than general pain. Any form of breast pain should be communicated to a patient’s primary care physician.

Family History of Breast Cancer. If patients have a history of breast cancer in their family, especially close relatives like mothers, sisters, or aunts, it is recommended that they get their mammogram approximately 10 years earlier than when their relative was first diagnosed.

The Process

During an appointment, patients first speak with a mammography technologist that will ask them basic questions about their breast health, family history, and medical history. It is especially important to share information about any prior breast surgery (reduction, lumpectomy, implants) or procedure, such as biopsy. Having that history helps radiologists identify what is truly abnormal and what might be expected.

Patients are then led into the mammography suite where each breast is compressed for a few seconds. Breasts are compressed to reduce radiation, and using digital mammography, get a more enhanced image of the breast tissue. Patients also have the option for 3D mammography technology, a state-of-the-art type of screening, where an x-ray arm sweeps over the breast and takes multiple images in “slices”, and provides radiologists with a 3D image of the breast. Only a couple minutes later, patients are able to put their gown back on and wait for their results, which, at Doctors Imaging Group, are given to them usually within 15 minutes.

The Results

Waiting for results can be very nerve-wracking, so Radiologists at Doctor’s Imaging Group help alleviate some of the stress and anxiety by providing results almost immediately after the patient’s screening. This way, radiologists are able to answer any questions, educate patients about their results, and what the next steps will entail. Common next steps include: return to annual screening, 6 month follow up, or biopsy.

The Return

Beginning at the age of 40, it is important for women to schedule their mammograms once a year. While “callbacks,” meaning the need to come back for extra images focused on a specific imaging finding, can make many patients nervous, an important factor to keep in mind is that they are not unusual after a patient’s first mammogram. While it may seem scary to face an abnormal mammogram at this young age, it is much better to catch a potential cancer at an early stage than wait for it to go undetected over the years and potentially grow and spread throughout the body (metastasize).


Performing regular “self-exams” is a good way to detect a breast abnormality in its early stages. While patients do not have to perform self-exams every day, it is recommended to perform them at least monthly– most easily done while showering. It is important to check every part of the breast, along the nipples, and the armpit area, focusing on any abnormalities or changes since the last self-exam. The most common area for breast cancer is in the upper-outer portion of the breast. Patients should be sure to let their primary care physicians know of any abnormalities.

“While most specialties within radiology are focused on already sick patients with symptoms who come in to get diagnosed, mammography is about keeping healthy women healthy, “ says Dr. Robert Mackey, fellowship-trained, board certified, Diagnostic Radiologist and Mammographer at Doctor’s Imaging Group. “My favorite part of this specialty is the interaction with patients and the focus on prevention and early detection. Finding an early cancer is rewarding because it means I may have potentially saved a woman’s life.”