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About Mammograms

A mammogram is a safe, low-dose X-ray examination of the breast. It is currently the most effective method of detecting breast cancer in its earliest, most treatable stages. Beaumont recommends all women 40 and over have an annual screening mammogram.

Types of Mammograms

Not all mammograms are the same. There are screening mammograms and diagnostic mammograms, and within those categories, there are specialized mammograms. Beaumont Breast Imaging Centers offer the leading-edge mammography options for both screening and diagnosing breast cancer.

A screening mammogram is an imaging test of the breast that uses X-ray technology to look for abnormalities or changes in breast tissue in women who do not have signs or symptoms of breast cancer. Most screening mammograms take two X-ray images of each breast. If it’s your first screening mammogram, it’s considered a baseline mammogram. The results of this test will be used to compare with future mammogram results to look for changes in your breast tissue. A screening mammogram may help detect breast tumors that cannot be felt during an annual exam or a monthly breast self-exam. To be eligible for a screening mammogram, your last mammogram should have been interpreted as negative. If the radiologists are following a probable benign finding in the breast on mammography, you are no longer eligible for a screening mammogram until that finding has been documented to be stable (usually 2-3 years).

A diagnostic mammogram uses X-ray technology to take images of breast tissue. It is used to help evaluate breast symptoms, like a lump, focal persistent breast pain, bloody nipple discharge, breast or nipple thickening, or changes in breast size, shape or skin color. Mammograms may also be used to evaluate potential abnormalities seen during a screening mammogram. Diagnostic mammograms usually focus on the affected breast (or breasts), and the number of images taken will depend on various factors. The study is individually tailored for each patient depending on the symptoms and findings.

The field of mammography is always improving as new technology is developed. Digital mammography technology has improved imaging capabilities. A digital mammography machine takes digital X-ray images of breast tissue that can be enhanced using computers. Digital mammogram images can be stored and transmitted electronically, which can be helpful in making mammography more accessible to women in remote areas.

Digital mammography (also called full-field digital mammography or FFDM) allows breast images to be manipulated to make visualizing breast tissue easier. For example, doctors can change things like the degree of magnification, brightness, or contrast to aid in visualization. These images can also be transmitted electronically, which is helpful in sharing medical records and sending images to experts from remote locations. Some studies have found FFDM to be more accurate in finding cancers in women younger than 50. Also, it has been found that women undergoing digital mammography do not have to return for additional studies as often as with standard mammography. All Beaumont Breast Imaging Centers have digital mammography machines.

Digital breast tomosynthesis (DBT) is a state-of-the-art 3-D breast imaging technology. Compared to standard digital mammography, which uses X-rays to take pictures of the breast from one angle, DBT takes a series of images from different angles, allowing the radiologist to scroll through the breast and look at individual slice pictures.

Research findings have shown digital breast tomosynthesis increases cancer detection rates by 20 to 40 percent, and the recall rate for screening patients is reduced by 25 to 30 percent.

While DBT has been shown benefits for all patients, it is especially beneficial for:

  • Individuals who are at high risk for breast cancer, either by genetic predisposition or by family/personal risk factors.
  • Women who have dense breast tissue.
  • Women who are undergoing their first mammogram.

Importance of Annual Screenings

Today's high-quality screening mammography is the most effective tool available to physicians in detecting breast cancer before lumps can be felt or symptoms of cancer appear. Early detection of breast cancer not only helps provide a woman with more options, but also increases the possibility of a favorable prognosis.

Beaumont recommends all women 40 and older get an annual screening mammogram. Women with one or more of the factors that increase risk should talk with their doctors about when to begin getting mammograms. Sometimes the starting age will be younger; sometimes the time between mammograms will be shorter.

Are mammograms safe?

You may want to ask your physician about the amount of radiation used during the procedure and the risks related to your situation. It is a good idea to keep record of your history of radiation exposure, such as previous scans and other types of X-rays, so that you can inform your physician. Risks associated with radiation exposure may be related to the total number of X-ray examinations and/or treatments over a long period of time. Special care is taken to ensure that the lowest possible amount of radiation exposure occurs when you have a mammogram.

What can I expect?

The first step in scheduling your mammogram is getting a script or order from your primary care physician, OB-GYN, or regular provider. You will not be able to schedule your mammogram until you have received this script.

When you arrive, you will check in and be taken to an area to undress from the waist up. It’s helpful to wear a two-piece outfit that day to make it easier. You will be given a gown to wear while you wait. Don’t wear deodorant or perfume before the test.

When you are called into the mammogram room, you’ll see a large machine and a technician. For each breast, you will undo the gown on that side, raise your arm up over the machine, and lean into it. The technician will position your breast in the machine between two flat plates and then compress your breast as you hold still. You will be asked to hold your breath for a moment while the X-ray is taken, and then the machine will release your breast.

In a screening mammogram, the whole procedure will probably take 10 to 15 minutes. In a diagnostic mammogram, the procedure may take longer. More X-rays of different angles will be taken, and the technician may zoom in on areas of interest.

While your breast is compressed, there can be some discomfort and possibly mild pain – the tissue simply isn’t accustomed to being stretched and compressed. But the discomfort lasts only seconds and goes away as soon as the mammography machine releases the breast.

What do my results mean?

If your mammogram results are negative, it means there were no abnormal findings. Essentially, your scan was “normal” or shows no signs of breast cancer.

If your mammogram does show something abnormal, you will need additional test to determine the cause. Most abnormal findings on a mammogram are not breast cancer. Other conditions that are sometimes found with mammography include:


Calcifications are tiny mineral deposits within the breast tissue. There are two categories of calcifications:

  • Macrocalcifications: Coarse calcium deposits that usually indicate degenerative changes in the breasts, such as:
    • Aging of the breast arteries
    • Old injuries
    • Inflammations
  • Microcalcifications: Tiny (less than 1/50 of an inch) specks of calcium. When many microcalcifications are seen in one area, they are referred to as a cluster.


Masses may occur with or without associated calcifications and may be due to different causes, including:

  • Cyst: A noncancerous collection of fluid in the breast.
  • Benign breast conditions: Masses can be monitored with periodic mammography, but others may require immediate or delayed biopsy.

Mammography at Beaumont

The American Cancer Society recommends that women use a facility, such as Beaumont, that specializes in mammograms and performs many mammograms daily. As a Breast Imaging Center of Excellence in Michigan, Beaumont offers patients leading edge mammography services, and has reached the American College of Radiology (SCR) Gold Standard for Mammography, meaning our facilities have demonstrated a strong commitment to image quality and safety.

With mammography locations across the region, you’ll have access to the most advanced technology available including 3-D mammography (tomosynthesis), ABUS whole breast ultrasound, breast MRI and more.

Beaumont Cancer Institute offers:

  • Several comprehensive breast care centers.
  • Fully accredited diagnostic radiology program performing thousands of digitized mammograms each year.
  • The first computer-aided diagnosis for all screening and mammography, and the first MRI-guided breast biopsies in Michigan.
  • A high-risk evaluation clinic with access to advanced breast MRI technology, clinical breast exams, annual imaging, genetic and risk reduction counseling services, and the latest diagnostic protocols.

Call 800-328-8542 today to schedule your next mammogram at Beaumont.