Also, mammograms may find certain types of breast cancer that would never cause symptoms or threaten a woman's life. But doctors cannot tell what kinds of cancer will cause problems, so all cancers are treated. This means that women may end up having tests and treatments they don't need. These can cause harm.
There is always a slight risk of damage to
cells or tissue from being exposed to any radiation, including the very low
levels of radiation used for this test. But the risk of damage from the X-rays
is very low compared with the potential benefits of the test.
A mammogram is an X-ray of the breast that is used to screen for breast cancer. Mammogram results are usually available within 10 days. It is not
uncommon to be asked to return for another test so an additional view of an
area in question can be obtained.
In the United
States, facilities that perform mammograms send the results directly to your
doctor's office and must send you a copy of the test results
(written in language that is easily understood) within 30 days.
looks normal. No unusual growths, lumps, or other types of abnormal tissue are
seen. The glands that produce milk for breast-feeding and the tubes (ducts)
through which milk flows appear normal.
An abnormal growth, lump, or other type of tissue may be
seen. A cancerous (malignant) or noncancerous (benign) tumor may be seen. One
or more fluid-filled pockets (cysts) may be seen.
Bits of calcium
(calcifications) may be seen. Tiny calcifications (microcalcifications) often
occur in areas where cells are growing very rapidly (such as in a cancerous
tumor). Larger calcifications (macrocalcifications) are usually normal and
noncancerous in women older than age 50.
A specific area needs to be
looked at again. This is a very common result for many women and does not mean
that the area is abnormal or cancerous.
Most abnormalities found during a mammogram are not
breast cancer. But many women who have regular screening mammograms need more
tests to investigate any abnormalities found during a mammogram. If an area of
your breast tissue appears to be a concern during a mammogram, other tests may
What Affects the Test
Reasons you may not be able to
have the test or why the results may not be helpful include:
- Deodorant, perfume, powders, or ointments
applied to the breasts or under the arms before the test. They may interfere
with the X-ray pictures.
- Breast implants or scar tissue from
previous breast surgery. This may make a mammogram harder to
A mammogram is not usually done if you are:
- Pregnant, because the radiation could damage
your developing baby (fetus). If a mammogram is absolutely
needed for diagnosing a problem, a lead apron will be placed over your
abdomen to shield your baby from exposure to the
- Breast-feeding, because breasts that contain milk are very
difficult to examine.