Mammography: A life-saving diagnostic tool for breast cancer

Mammography: A life-saving diagnostic tool for breast cancer

Battling breast cancer in women begins with finding it. Early identification of tumors in the breast can reduce your risk of dying from the disease by about 25-30%. In the battle against breast cancer, mammography (also called mammogram test or mastography) is the most effective method to look for early signs of breast cancer.

Did you know?

“Mammography cuts down the risk of fatal breast tumors by up to 41% and the rate of advanced breast tumors by 25%.” It can save lives by discovering breast cancer even before the physical symptoms develop. When caught early, localized cancers can be eliminated without resorting to the removal of breasts (mastectomy).

What’s more perturbing is that even though there is much awareness about it, a lot of females are reluctant to get themselves tested. There are numerous reasons for it, and one of them is the fear of experiencing pain during mammography.

You must have heard the rumour that radiation exposure from mammography can trigger breast cancer. If you have always avoided this technique because of this concern, it’s time to understand the facts! When it comes to the health of breasts, it is vital to understand the importance of this technique. Read below to know more about this essential and life-saving procedure.

What is a mammography?

A mammogram is an x-ray picture of the breast that is utilized to visualize and examine the breasts for breast cancer. In this process, an image of the breast tissue is generated using a low dose of X-ray radiation.

It helps to locate tumors that are too tiny or too deep to be noticeable by breast self-examination. It can also identify alterations in breast tissue, including lumps, before they can be felt.

Why is mammography done?

The X-ray imaging of the breast is used to:

  • Examine the breast for early detection and diagnosis of breast cancer
  • Check for breast cancer in females experiencing no signs or symptoms of disease
  • Screen for breast disease and other signs of breast cancer as early as possible in females having symptoms such as a lump, pain, nipple discharge and thickening, breast irregularity, areola release.

How is mammography done?

During mammography, you will stand in the front of an X-ray machine. The doctor will position your breast on a special platform/plastic plate in the mammography unit. Another parallel plate will gradually press your breast from above and make it flat.

You might feel some pressure. This may be uncomfortable. However, it aids to get a clear and better picture. The entire process may take about 20 minutes, with the doctor taking several x-rays of each breast.

Screening vs Diagnostic mammography

If a doctor advises mammography as a routine test to look for any breast alterations in females who have no signs or symptoms of breast tumor and are considered at average risk for breast tumor, it is called a screening mammogram.

On the other hand, if a doctor advises mammography when symptoms are already present such as unusual breast changes, lump, pain, nipple discharge or thickening, or an alteration in the shape or size of the breast, it is called diagnostic mammography.

A diagnostic mammogram is also used to assess abnormalities noted in screening mammography. Compared to screening mammography, it takes a longer time to carry out diagnostic mammography.

Tips while going for mammography

  • Schedule mammography when the breasts are least likely to be tender.
  • Avoid mammography one week before and during your menstrual period since your breasts may be swollen, sensitive and tender. The best time is 1 week after the periods.
  • Inform your doctor about your family or personal history of breast cancer, breast symptoms, previous surgeries, and hormone use. If you have breast implants, they can interfere with mammography scans and make it harder to find breast cancer.
  • Don't use lotion, deodorant, cream, perfume or talcum powder under your arms or on your breasts, as these might appear as calcium spots on the mammogram and hinder with the correct diagnosis.
  • Leave jewellery at home. Wear comfortable and loose clothes. On the day of your mammography, you may be requested to wear a hospital gown.
  • If you are pregnant or are likely to become pregnant, inform your clinician prior to mammography as the radiation may affect the fetus. To know if pregnancy is safe after breast cancer treatment, click here!
  • Bring your previous mammograms and make them available to your radiologist.


Early detection is the key to minimize health care costs and defeat breast cancer. The guidelines from the American Cancer Society suggest screening mammography every year for females, beginning at the age of 40 years. Women at raised risk for breast cancer should initiate breast cancer screening earlier and more often than other women.

Your doctor can assist you in deciding when and how often to have breast imaging. Though radiation exposure is a concern for some women, the amount of radiation used is quite small to link it with any risk when compared with the promising benefits reaped from it.

With mammography facilities, get breast cancer screened at the earliest!

You can also explore: 10 myths related to breast cancer

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