Mammography is an X-ray that may show changes in the breast(s) before they can be found by a woman during her self-breast exam or her health care provider.
There are two types of mammograms, screening and diagnostic mammograms. The only difference is that a patient who is scheduled for a screening mammogram is asymptomatic and a patient scheduled for a diagnostic study has a problem that needs to be worked up, which may include additional images and or ultrasound.
Often a mammogram can tell whether a lump is cancerous (most are not). When high quality equipment is used and images are read by board certified radiologists, 85-90% of cancer can be detected. A needle aspiration or biopsy (sample of tissue is removed from the lump) may also be needed. One of the most important factors for reading mammography is the need for previous mammograms. The patient must be responsible to obtain their previous mammograms for the radiologists to compare and note any changes in the breast. CAD is a sophisticated technology that assists radiologists in interpreting mammograms by digitizing the image and analyzing areas on the mammogram that may contain features associated with cancer.
Geisinger uses a computer aided detection system to identify suspicious features that may warrant a second review by radiologists. Functioning like a “spellchecker” for medical images, the computer identifies and marks two types of abnormalities:
- Micro-calcifications - clusters of bright, white specks (denoted by a triangle on the screen)
- Spiculations - dense regions of radiating lines indicating a mass that may suggest the presence of cancer (denoted by an asterisk on the screen)
Once the computer marks these areas, the radiologist can focus on specific areas and further analyze spots that the computer has determined may be suspicious.
Digital mammography is available at many of our imaging sites.