In 1969, Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, and bell-bottom jeans and tie-dye shirts were all the rage. It was also the year that the first X-ray units dedicated to breast imaging were developed. Seven years later, mammography became standard practice as a screening device.
Today, numerous organizations, including the National Cancer Institute and American Cancer Society, recommend that women age 40 and older have an annual screening mammogram to check for breast cancer. A mammogram is considered to be “positive” when the radiologist reading it sees an abnormal area in the breast that may be indicative of cancer.
Just because a mammogram result is positive does not always mean there is cancer. A false-positive result can occur when the radiologist determines that the mammogram is abnormal, but there is actually no cancer present. This type of result is more common for women who have undergone previous breast biopsies, and those who are younger, have a family history of breast cancer, or are taking estrogen.
Conventional vs. Digital Mammography
The difference between conventional and digital mammography involves how the breast image is recorded and stored. While X-rays are used to produce both kinds of mammograms, breast images are stored on film in conventional mammography, while an electronic image of the breast is stored as a computer file in digital mammography. Information that is stored digitally can be more easily magnified or manipulated for additional evaluation than images stored on film.
In cases of positive screening mammogram results, the doctor may order a diagnostic mammogram for more detailed, clearer images of the suspicious area. This type of mammogram could involve more views than a screening mammogram and use special techniques. Diagnostic mammograms typically provide additional information about unusual changes, including breast lumps, nipple discharge, pain, thickening, or change in size or shape of the breast. Other imaging tests also may be necessary, including an ultrasound, which uses sound waves to create a picture of the breast, or magnetic resonance imaging, which uses powerful magnets to create detailed images of breast tissue.
A biopsy may be necessary in addition to imaging tests to confirm the diagnosis of cancer detected in a positive mammogram. A biopsy involves removing a sample of breast tissue to check for cancer cells. It is the only way to tell for sure if there is cancer in the breast. If these test results are also positive, a treatment plan will then be developed based on the patient’s overall health and stage of cancer. Treatment options include surgery, as well as different types of therapy such as chemo, radiation, hormone and targeted.
Early detection of breast cancer using screening mammography allows for earlier treatment, maybe even before the disease has spread. The relative five-year survival rate for cancer found in the early stages is approximately 90 percent. Research has shown that the number of deaths due to breast cancer for women between the ages of 40 and 74 can be reduced with the help of screening mammograms. For more information about mammograms, talk with your doctor or visit the American Center Society website at www.cancer.org.
For a Physician Referral, call St. Mary's Medical Center at (561) 882-9100.