X-ray images of the breast, mammograms are used to detect breast disease. They can be administered as screening tests in women without symptoms. They can also serve a diagnostic purpose in women experiencing issues with breast lumps or pain or discharge from the nipple.

What are the benefits of screening mammography?

Advanced screening mammogram is the most effective tool available to detect breast cancer before symptoms appear. Early detection of breast cancer means more treatment options and increases the chances of having the best possible outcome.

What are the guidelines for when women should start getting mammograms?

There are multiple different screening mammography guidelines available and this is a controversial topic. Sanford Health follows the American College of Radiology, Society of Breast Imaging and National Comprehensive Cancer Network recommendation of annual screening mammography beginning at age 40, believing that early detection of breast cancer is critical for improving breast cancer survival.

What about women with a family history of breast cancer?

Individual risk, such as a family history of the disease, may necessitate screening mammograms earlier and more often. They also may call for additional tests such as a breast ultrasound or MRI. Every woman is different and should consult her health care provider to make a plan.

What is the general process for preparing for a mammogram?

Administered by specially trained radiology technologists, women are advised to arrive wearing two-piece clothing and without having applied deodorant, lotion or powder during the day. The technologist will ask a series of questions about overall breast health. After removing any objects, such as jewelry, that could interfere with the test, the patient removes clothing above the waist and has it replaced with a gown.

How is a mammogram administered?

As patients stand in front of the mammography machine, one breast is put onto the X-ray plate. A flat plastic plate is put on top of the breast, compressing it against the plate and minimizing radiation levels. Patients hold their breath while the image is taken. Two images of each breast will be taken, with repositioning in between to capture different angles. The process takes 20 to 30 minutes, and, though it isn’t painful, breast movement and compression can cause discomfort.

What follows the mammogram?

The radiology technologist studies the images and makes sure no more are necessary. If the images indicate possible areas with cancer, tissue samples may be taken from the area. Called biopsies, the samples may be taken by needle or surgically to be studied to determine if cancer is present.

Christina Tello-Skjerseth, a radiologist at Sanford Clinic in Bismarck, completed her degree at the University of North Dakota School of Medicine and Health Sciences in Grand Forks, and a radiology residency at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. She is board certified in radiology by the American Board of Radiology.