Mammography is the best test there is for evaluating breast problems. A mammogram is a specialised x-ray of the breast taken with a dedicated machine. A digital mammogram system is now used so that only a very low dose of x-rays is needed.

Mammography is used in two ways. One is to investigate women who have breast symptoms - this is called diagnostic mammography. The other technique is screening mammography, which involves taking regular mammograms of women with no breast symptoms to detect very early breast cancer, long before lumps are big enough to feel. Research shows that regular screening mammography can reduce the death rate of breast cancer by at least 35%. Women over fifty years old should have a mammogram every two years (or every year if a close relative had breast cancer) and women aged forty to fifty should have annual mammograms.
About 93% of cancers can be detected by mammography, so it is a very good test, but it is not perfect and annual breast examination by your doctor is also important.

Does it Hurt?

The vast majority of women report that mammography is mildly uncomfortable, but not painful. Women who have tender breasts premenstrually are advised to delay mammography until after the period finishes. If you have had a painful mammogram in the past, please tell us - with improved techniques and our experienced staff, painful mammograms are now very uncommon at Mercy Breast Clinic.

What to Expect

Taking a high quality mammogram is a very specialised task and our female technologists are all well trained. Two x-rays are taken of each breast while the breast is held firm by a compression paddle. The compression prevents blurring from movement in the tissue and leads to a big reduction in the x-ray dose. It also helps to spread the breast tissue out, making the mammogram easier to read. At Mercy Breast Clinic we believe it is important that you are given your results as soon as possible, so there is always a radiologist present to check the films and discuss the results with you immediately. After the mammograms are checked it is sometimes necessary to take extra mammograms or to check the breast with ultrasound.

Occasionally, after consultation with you and your doctor or breast specialist, it is necessary to perform additional investigations. This can include fine needle aspiration biopsy, where a fine needle is placed in a breast abnormality to obtain some of the cells for testing.  A core biopsy can also obtain tissue for diagnosis.

This page was last updated at 10:33AM on June 6, 2019.