Doctors often hear from women who mistakenly believe that breast implants and mammograms don’t mix. The truth is having breast implants should not prevent you from being able to get a mammogram or breast cancer screening.
There is one downside to having breast implants when it comes to breast imaging. The X-rays used in mammograms cannot go through silicone or saline implants well enough to see the area of breast tissue covered by the implant. But this isn’t a reason to skip mammograms.
In a regular screening mammogram, X-ray pictures of each breast are taken, typically from two different angles. If you have implants, a few more X-rays are taken. This is why it's important to seek out a breast care center or an expert who has a lot of experience doing a mammogram with breast implants present.
“Skilled mammography technicians work daily with women who have breast implants and are experts at getting the best X-ray views for radiologists to examine,” says Scripps Clinic radiation oncologist Ray Lin, MD, with Scripps MD Anderson Cancer Center. “That means more peace of mind for you and less chances of you needing to redo a mammogram.”
Knowledge is an important, powerful tool in protecting your health. For a successful mammogram, it's important to let your technician know if you have implants before scheduling an appointment.
Here are the facts on some common misconceptions about mammograms and breast implants:
Fact: Mammography technicians know exactly what to do to get X-rays that show as much breast tissue as possible. They will gently push the implant back against your chest wall and pull your breast tissue forward and over it. These extra X-ray pictures are called implant displacement views and capture better images of the front part of each breast.
Fact: Today’s mammography machines use low radiation doses to take X-rays. If you have breast implants, you will need those extra X-ray pictures, but this should not pose any danger to you. “Radiation exposure goes up but just slightly. You will still be well within safe limits,” Dr. Lin says.
Studies show that the low levels of radiation from mammograms do not significantly increase your risk of cancer. “It’s far more dangerous to skip the mammogram and have undetected cancer,” Dr. Lin adds.
Fact: It’s rare to experience a rupture during a screening. The chances are even lower when you choose a facility that routinely screens women with implants.
Fact: It depends on the type of mastectomy. If both breasts have been removed, then there is no breast tissue to scan. You can skip mammograms. Some women still need screenings. These include women who have undergone:
- Unilateral mastectomy, where there is one remaining breast to screen.
- Nipple-sparing mastectomy, where the nipples and a small amount of breast tissue need to be screened.
Fact: They can but if you're concerned about increased radiation, you should talk to your doctor about the pros and cons of 3D mammography if you have implants.
Three-dimensional (3D) mammography, or breast tomosynthesis, is an advanced type of mammography. It involves taking pictures of thin layers of your breast from different angles to form a 3D image of your breast. These views make it easier to spot abnormalities.
The reason some doctors don’t recommend 3D mammograms for women with breast implants is that X-ray machines use a slightly higher dose of radiation, and you’re already receiving extra radiation exposure due to additional implant displacement pictures.