Scripps provides digital mammography using the latest breast imaging technology and expertise. A digital mammogram uses a low-dose X-ray that passes through your breast tissue to create a high-contrast, high-resolution image of the inner structures of the breast. These images can reveal any potential tumors or abnormalities even before they can be felt.
Depending on your needs, your physician may recommend either a screening mammogram or a diagnostic mammogram.
Screening mammograms are the most common type of breast imaging. These preventive tests check for changes in the breast tissue of women who do not have any abnormal signs or symptoms. A screening mammogram typically consists of two images of each breast.
Scripps follows The American Cancer Society and the National Cancer Institute’s recommendation to begin annual screening mammograms for women starting at age 40 and continuing as long as they are in good health. Your physician may suggest routine screenings at a younger age if you have known breast cancer risk factors, such as a mother or sister with a breast cancer diagnosis.
Diagnostic mammograms are performed to examine breast changes such as abnormal findings in a screening mammogram, lumps felt during a physical exam or visual changes to the breast and nipple. The technologist takes breast X-rays from several angles, and the suspicious area is magnified for accurate diagnosis. A diagnostic mammogram may find that an area that looked suspicious on a screening mammogram is actually normal, or may result in a recommendation for further testing such as a biopsy.
A select number of Scripps breast imaging locations offer a new type of screening option called 3-D mammography or tomosynthesis. This FDA-approved form of breast imaging creates a three-dimensional image of the breast tissue, enabling the radiologist to examine the breast tissue one layer at a time. Breast tomosynthesis is especially helpful in examining dense breast tissue and is associated with a higher cancer detection rate.
Women who have dense breasts have less fat tissue than glandular and connective tissue in their breasts. This may make it more difficult to evaluate mammogram results. Dense breast tissue is the primary reason a mammogram fails to detect cancer.
Though research estimates that about 40 percent of women who get a mammogram have dense breasts, most women don’t know if their breast tissue is dense or not. A new California state law now requires that facilities performing mammography screenings to notify women if they are found to have dense breast tissue based on their mammogram reading.
The law also requires screeners to tell women that dense breast tissue can make it harder to evaluate the results of a mammogram and may be associated with an increased risk of breast cancer. Screeners can also offer alternative screening options that may be available.
Dense breast tissue is not the same as breast cancer. It simply means that additional screening may be helpful. If you are told you have dense breasts, talk to your physician about the need for additional screening. A number of imaging options are available for dense breast tissue, such as breast ultrasound and breast magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
If you have breast implants, always tell the technologist before your mammogram. Because the X-ray technology cannot pass through silicone or saline implants, the area of breast tissue covered by the implant will not appear on the mammogram.
Women who have breast implants may need to have additional images taken in order to view as much of the breast tissue as possible. Two extra images, called implant displacement (ID) views, are taken of each breast. In these images, the implant is moved aside and the breast tissue is pulled over it. In some cases, a mammogram may reveal that an implant has ruptured; in others, the ruptured implant will look normal, so a mammogram is not used to diagnose burst or leaking implants.
Women with breast implants should follow the same screening mammogram guidelines as women who do not have them.