Mammograms for Women with Implants

Clear up common misconceptions so you feel more comfortable at your next mammography exam

Mammogram patient smiling in natural setting.

by Ray Lin, MD, Radiation Oncologist

We often hear from women who mistakenly believe that implants and mammograms don’t mix. That’s absolutely not true! Since we’re in the business of saving lives, we like to put rumors like these to rest.

One unfortunate downside of breast implants is that their silicone or saline material makes it harder to see breast tissue and tissue abnormalities on an X-ray. This isn’t a reason to skip mammograms. However, it is a reason to seek out a breast care center that has a lot of experience working with women with implants.

Because our mammography techs at Scripps Health work daily with women who have implants, they’re experts at getting the best X-ray views for radiologists to examine. That means more peace of mind for you and fewer chances of you needing to return for a mammogram retake.

Myths and facts about mammograms and breast implants

Knowledge is an important, powerful tool in protecting your health. Our mammography technicians and radiologists are here to answer any questions you may have about the safety of mammogram screenings when you have breast implants. Here’s the lowdown on some of the more common misconceptions we hear every day.

Myth: Implants cover up breast tissue so there’s no point in getting a mammogram.

Fact: Skilled mammography technicians, like those at Scripps who regularly see many women with implants, know exactly what to do to get X-rays that show as much breast tissue as possible. This involves gently pushing the implant back against your chest and pulling your breast tissue forward and over it. These X-ray pictures, called implant displacement views, capture better images of the front part of each breast.

Myth: Women with breast implants get too much radiation exposure during mammogram screenings.

Fact: Today’s mammography machines use low radiation doses to take X-rays. If you have breast implants, you will need extra X-ray pictures, such as the implant displacement views. This does increase your radiation exposure, but just slightly. You’re still well within safe limits. 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.

Myth: Implants can rupture during a mammogram screening.

Fact: It’s extremely unlikely to experience a rupture during a screening. The chances of this happening are even lower when you choose a facility that has mammography technicians who routinely screen women with implants.

Myth: Women who get implants after mastectomies don’t need mammograms.

Fact: It depends on your mastectomy type. If both breasts have been removed via a bilateral mastectomy, then there is no breast tissue to scan. You can skip mammograms. Some women who undergo mastectomies still need screenings. These include women who have undergone:

  • Unilateral mastectomy: There is one remaining breast to screen.
  • Nipple-sparing mastectomy: The nipples and a small amount of breast tissue need to be screened.

Myth: Women who have breast implants can’t get 3D mammogram screenings.

Fact: Three-dimensional (3D) mammography, or breast tomosynthesis, takes 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 most 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. You should talk to your doctor about the pros and cons of 3D mammography if you have implants.

This Scripps Health and Wellness tip was provided by Ray Lin, MD, a radiation oncologist at Scripps Radiation Therapy Center in San Diego. Learn more about breast care at Scripps.