Diagnosing Breast Cancer

Institutes & Services > Women's Services

Screening Mammogram

What it is: A screening mammogram is for women who have no symptoms of breast cancer. In this test, an x-ray of the breast is taken from top to bottom and side to side. Radiologists look at the mammograms to determine if further attention is necessary.

The American Cancer Society recommends that women have once-a-year screening mammograms beginning at age 40.

What if the screening mammogram finds something unusual?

Between 6 to 8% of these screening mammograms identify something that may need further attention, including:

  • Physical examination of the breast
  • Further mammography
  • Ultrasound
  • Needle biopsy

When further evaluation is completed, most women whose screening mammogram located a potential abnormality will be found to have nothing wrong.

Diagnostic Mammogram

What it is: A mammogram done for women whose screening mammograms detected some kind of abnormality. Often, magnification views can give a better picture of the area under question.

What if the diagnostic mammogram finds something unusual?

It depends on what was found. Some women may need additional images from mammography. Others may need additional mammograms and ultrasound.

3D Mammogram (Tomosynthesis)

TriHealth is proud to have brought the first 3D digital tomosynthesis to the public in Greater Cincinnati. 

What it is: A revolutionary screening approach that produces a series of high resolution pictures, giving doctors the ability to view the breast layer by layer. This approach can reveal information that goes unseen in standard mammograms.

Among the many benefits of 3D mammograms:

  • Improved views of breast tissue
  • Increased cancer detection by up to 40%
  • Fewer (15%) call-back rates for further tests
  • Less anxiety for patients

How Accurate are Mammograms?

Mammograms are accurate in 85 to 90% of the cases. They help detect abnormal tissue before it is large enough to be felt.
Still, it is possible that you could feel a lump that might not be visible on a mammogram. Tell your doctor anything you feel while examining your breasts!

How Does an Abnormality Appear on a Mammogram?

Something that needs further attention might be called a mass, lump, density, distortion or nodule. This might appear as:

  • A mass with a smooth, well-defined border. This is often benign. Ultrasound can determine what is inside the mass. If it is fluid, the mass is called a cyst.
  • A mass with an irregular border or a starburst appearance. This may be cancerous. The physician will probably recommend a biopsy.
  • Small amounts of calcium, called microcalcifications, most of which are noncancerous. The physician can classify them as benign, suspicious, or indeterminate. She or he may recommend additional mammogram studies, possibly followed by a biopsy.

“What if They Think They See Something on my Mammogram?”

This is a common question. The majority of abnormal findings from a mammogram are found either to be normal breast tissue or benign (noncancerous) tissue.

Breast Ultrasound

What it is: High-frequency sound waves (inaudible to humans) are transmitted through the breast. Echoes produce pictures of the breast and can zero in on a small area of concern. These ultrasound images can help specialists identify an array of conditions and diseases, including breast cancer.

Your provider may use ultrasound by itself or with other diagnostic tests.

An ultrasound can help determine:

  • Whether a lump in the breast is a solid mass or a cyst (sac containing fluid). If it is a cyst, a needle is often used to aspirate – remove— fluid. If the fluid that is removed is clear and the mass vanishes, your physician may decide that no further testing is needed.
  • The specific location of a tumor that is known to exist but cannot be felt. Knowing the specific location, the physician can guide the needle to that precise spot during a breast biopsy.

Other Breast Procedures

  • MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) of the breast creates detailed pictures of the breast and the tissues around it. MRIs can add helpful information to mammograms but are only recommended in certain instances.
  • Breast biopsy is a procedure that takes a small amount of tissue from an area of the breast with abnormal-looking tissue identified by a physical exam, mammogram or other means. The tissue sample is then investigated to see whether cancer cells are present.
  • Fine needle aspiration breast biopsy is a procedure in which the doctor puts a thin needle into the suspicious-looking area and draws out fluid and breast tissue that are then examined. This is the simplest type of breast biopsy and is used mostly for lumps that are felt in the breast.

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