What is Mammography?
A mammography is an x-ray examination of the breasts which is used to detect and diagnose breast diseases. The x-ray film is called the mammogram. Screening mammography is used as a preventive measure for women who have no symptoms of breast disease.

Is a mammography safe?
A mammography is a safe low-dose x-ray of the breast.

Why should I have a mammography?
Women in Malaysia has a 1 in 19 chance of getting breast cancer in her lifetime. Mammography is used to detect breast cancer early, before it can be felt, and thus have a better chance of surviving the disease. Along with a mammogram, an actual breast lump must be assessed by a doctor. (Source: BreastHealth Information Centre, www.radiologymalaysia.org)

Who should have a mammography?
The American Cancer Society recommends that all women aged 40 and over have a screening mammography every year as part of a breast health programme. This also includes monthly breast self-examinations and an annual breast examination by a healthcare professional.

Women who have had breast cancer or breast problems or with a family history of breast cancer are at a higher risk for breast cancer. They may need to start screening at a younger age or more frequent as advised by their doctor.

How is a mammography done?
A female mammography radiographer will place each breast in turn on the mammography unit and use a paddle to compress the breast. The breast is compressed to spread the tissue apart. This allows the maximum amount of tissue to be imaged and reduces radiation dose. The flatter the breast, the better the image. The compression will only last for a few seconds. It is uncomfortable but should not be painful. The radiographer will step behind a screen and take the x-ray images. As a rule, two views in different positions of each breast are taken.

How can I prepare for the mammography?
Do not schedule your mammography for the week before your period if your breasts are usually tender during this time. The best time is one week after your period. Do not apply deodorant, lotion and talcum powder under your arms or on your breasts on the day of examination. They may appear on the film as calcium spots.

Always inform your doctor or radiographer if there is any possibility that you are pregnant. Describe any breast symptoms or problems before performing the exam.

Obtain prior mammograms and make them available to the doctor or radiographer at the time of the current examination.

How long does a mammography take?
The mammography takes only a few seconds. However, the total time taken to prepare and position the patient for the x-ray examiantion takes about 20-30 minutes.

What happens after the mammography?
There is actually nothing much to anticipate after the mammography.

Are there any possible complications?
Today’s mammography units use very low doses of radiation to produce high quality mammograms, making this a very safe procedure.

The radiation dose from a mammogram is about the same as we receive from background radiation in three months.

False Positive Mammograms. Five to 10 percent of screening mammogram results are abnormal and require more testing (more mammograms, ultrasound or biopsy) and most of the follow-up tests confirm that no cancer was present. It is estimated that a woman between the age of 40 and 49, who has yearly mammograms will have about a 30 percent chance of having a false-positive mammogram at some point in that decade, and about a 7 to 8 percent chance of having a breast biopsy within the 10-year period. The estimate for false-positive mammograms is about 25 percent for women in the age group of 50 or over.

What if my mammogram is positive equivocal?
If your mammogram is positive or equivocal (ambiguous) , you may need to take additional mammogram pictures or an ultrasound of the breast. Subsequently, an earlier follow up mammogram in 6 months’ time or other investigations such as a biopsy may be necessary.

What are the limitations of mammography?
Not all cancers of the breast can be seen on mammography. The false negative rate is 10-15 percent. Because some breast cancer are hard to visualize, a radiologist may want to compare your mammogram to images from previous examinations. You should always tell your doctor about a suspicious lump even if you have had a recent mammogram done.

Breast implants can also obstruct accurate mammogram readings because they can block a clear view of the breast tissues.

Disclaimer: This is only general information. A doctor should be contacted if you need any medical advice or if medical decisions need to be made.