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Ever wonder how a mammogram is read and interpreted? Our Women's Imaging Center radiologists read more than 10,000 mammograms each year, and want to share how they read a mammogram and why they are so important in helping to detect breast cancer.
A mammogram is an X-ray of the breast. It is used to detect and diagnose breast disease in women who have breast problems, like a lump, pain, or nipple discharge, as well as for women who have no breast complaints.
X-rays of the breast are different from those used for other parts of the body. The breast X-ray does not penetrate tissue as easily as the X-ray used for routine X-rays of other parts of the body. The breast is compressed by the mammogram equipment to spread the tissue apart. This allows for a lower dose of radiation. “There is always a slight chance of cancer from excessive exposure to radiation. However, the benefit of an accurate diagnosis far outweighs the risk”, says Michelle Black, MD, Radiologist at El Camino Hospital. Compression of the breast may cause temporary discomfort, but the compression is necessary to produce a good mammogram. The compression only lasts for a few seconds for each image of the breast. A breast health nurse or X-ray technologist usually takes the X-rays. The resulting films are read and interpreted by a radiologist, who reports the results to your healthcare provider.
Radiologists read and interpret a mammogram by looking for any signs of abnormality, including asymmetries (something on one side that's not on the other), irregular areas of increased density, clusters of small calcifications and any area of skin thickening. “By sight alone radiologists cannot determine if something is cancerous. In fact, mammograms show changes in the breast up to two years before a patient or physician can feel them.” shares Dr. Black. “That's why a mammogram is the first in a series of tests that will help detect abnormalities.”
The radiologists at El Camino Hospital recommend an annual mammogram screening for all women over the age of 40, or earlier if you have additional risk factors for breast cancer, such as family history or BRCA gene mutation. “The Women's Imaging Health Center is very focused on early detection”, says Sila Yitta, MD, El Camino Hospital’s Director of Breast Imaging and Intervention. “The goal with early detection is to catch Breast Cancer when it’s small and easy to treat and it has not yet spread to other parts of the breast or body”.
As Women's Imaging Center patient Dian states “You should always go for a mammogram. I was shocked to hear I had cancer. I was lucky that it was small and caught right away. Because of prevention and early detection, I have a second chance.”
Schedule your mammogram by calling the El Camino Hospital Women's Imaging Center at 650-988-7050.
Learn more about the comprehensive screening options available at the El Camino Hospital Women's Imaging Center.