Mammograms – Imaging Center 

St. Mary’s Medical Center has a comprehensive Imaging Center that caters to women’s health needs including mammography, bone densitometry and digital ultrasound. The Imaging Center provides better images with less radiation compared to film mammography. The Imaging Center has highly trained radiologists, including a fellowship-trained female radiologist, who specializes in breast imaging.

There is a current debate in the United States over the best time to begin screening mammograms for breast cancer. The U.S. Preventive Services (USPTF) has recommended that the biennial screening mammography for women should be done between the ages of 50 to 74 years. The recommendation among other health experts has not changed, including the American Cancer Society and the American College of Surgeons. They continue to recommend that women should begin having annual mammograms at age 40 or earlier if they are at higher risk. The decision when to start regular, biennial screening mammography should be a result of your individual discussion with your physician.

Early Detection

Studies suggest that 10-20 percent of breast cancer detected by self examinations were not visible on film x-rays.

  • Digitally imaging the breast may improve a physician’s ability to detect small tumors.
  • When cancers are small, the woman has more treatment options that may lead to a better outcome.
  • Mammography increases the detection of small, abnormal growths in the milk ducts, called ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS).
    • If DCIS is caught early enough, women are usually treated with a lumpectomy, which is breast-conserving surgery that removes only the affected area of the breast and not the entire breast. 

What to Expect

After you’ve checked in at the mammogram facility, you’ll be taken to a private area where you will put on a patient gown. A technician will help position you for the mammogram. The technician will move the machine and then place your breast tissue between the two plates. She will need to adjust your position and tell you where to place your arms and how to stand.

The mammogram plates will be gradually moved together so that your breast tissue is compressed between them. A good mammogram image means good compression must take place. While you may feel some discomfort as the breast tissue is squeezed, you should not feel pain. Talk to the technician if the compression becomes too uncomfortable.

While the X-ray is taken, you will need to hold very still and hold your breath for a few seconds. This prevents movement that might blur the image. After images of both breasts are taken, the technician will ask you to wait a few minutes in the room while the images are checked for quality. If the images are acceptable, you’ll be able to dress and continue with your day.

After Your Mammogram

A radiologist, a physician who received special training in interpreting X-ray images including mammograms, will carefully study the mammogram films and provide a report to your physician. You will receive written notification from the mammography department if the mammogram was normal. Should any areas need additional study, your doctor will let you know about the findings and tell you about additional tests.