Mammograms are X-ray images of the breasts used to screen for breast cancer. Mammograms play a key role in early detection of breast cancer. During a mammogram, the breasts are compressed between two firm surfaces to spread out the breast tissue. Then an X-ray captures black-and-white images of the breasts that are displayed on a computer screen and examined by radiologists.
Mammography can be used either for screening or for diagnostic purposes in evaluating a breast lump:
Diagnostic mammography. Diagnostic mammography is used to investigate suspicious breast changes, such as a new breast lump, breast pain, an unusual skin appearance, nipple thickening or nipple discharge. It's also used to evaluate abnormal findings on a screening mammogram. A diagnostic mammogram includes additional mammogram images.
Some general guidelines for when to begin screening mammography include:
Women with a high risk of breast cancer. Women with a high risk of breast cancer may benefit by beginning screening mammograms before age 40. Talk to your doctor about evaluating your individual risk of breast cancer. Your risk factors, such as a family history of breast cancer or a history of precancerous breast lesions, may lead your doctor to recommend magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) in combination with mammograms.