What is Mammography?
Mammography is a specialized radiological technique that uses low-dose X-ray to visualize the internal structures of the breasts. X-ray imaging involves exposing a part of the body to ionizing radiation to create images of those parts.
Mammography is done to aid early detection and diagnosis of breast cancer. A mammography exam is called a mammogram.
How is a Mammogram performed?
Mammography is an outpatient procedure which takes about 30 minutes. You will be advised to schedule your mammogram one week after your menstrual period, because if done during your period, the breasts may be tender and difficult to examine during the procedure.
A mammography unit is a rectangular box in which is contained the tube which generates the ionizing radiation. This mammography unit is distinct from other X-ray machines and is exclusively used to examine the breasts.
During the procedure, your breast is directly placed on a special platform in the mammography unit such that it is compressed with a transparent plastic paddle. Compression of the breast is necessary for its clear visualization.
You would be asked to keep as still as you can while the breast is compressed against the paddle. You may have to change your position a couple of times for the images to be taken at various angles. The process is repeated for the other breast.
The radiographer performing the examination goes to a room behind the mammography room to activate the mammogram machine. When all the necessary image views are taken, the examination is complete. The images would be interpreted by a radiologist, a doctor trained to supervise and interpret imaging results, and sent to your referring physician.
How does a Mammogram work?
X-rays are a form of radiation which when targeted at and passed through a part of the body, produces an image of that part on a radiation detector.
Different parts of the body absorb X-rays at different degrees. Dense tissues such as bone absorb much of the radiation passed through them and the image of these tissues appear white on the radiograph film. Soft tissues such as muscle and fat allow the radiation to pass through them, absorbing just a little, appearing as shades of grey on the X-ray film.
Air does not absorb X-rays, so areas of the body where there is gas appear black on the film.
What are the types of Mammography?
There are three special forms of mammography recently developed. These include digital mammography, computer-aided detection (CAD) mammography, and breast tomosynthesis.
Digital mammography converts the X-rays into digital pictures just as seen in a digital camera. CAD mammography uses digitized images to search for cancer by detecting abnormal areas of density and mass. Breast tomosynthesis is also called 3-D mammography and it takes different images of the breast at different angles to produce a 3-D image.
What health risks does a mammogram pose?
There’s a small risk of cancer from mammography owing to your exposure to radiation, however, the benefits of a mammogram outweigh its risks. Additionally, using the lowest effective radiation dose is always aimed at.