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Mammogram Quick Overview

Patient Comments
  • A mammogram is an X-ray examination of the breast used to screen for early breast cancers.
  • The benefits of mammography outweigh the small risks associated with the radiation exposure; radiation exposure in a mammogram is less than that obtained on a transcontinental flight.
  • Physician groups differ in their specific recommendations for mammogram screening guidelines, including the age at which women should begin having mammograms.
  • The mammogram is a quick procedure and involves mild discomfort as the breasts are compressed for a few seconds to obtain the image.
  • The ability of the mammogram to detect abnormalities is reduced in women with breast implants.
  • Screening mammography has been shown to significantly reduce deaths from breast cancer.

What is a mammogram?

A mammogram is a special X-ray examination of the breast made with specific X-ray equipment that can often find tumors too small to be felt. A mammogram is one of the best radiographic methods available today to detect breast cancer early. It can detect most cancers at least a year before they can be felt by the doctor or patient herself.

A woman may experience significant distress, anxiety, and fear associated with the mammogram and with the prospect of discovering a tumor. However, the procedure itself is relatively simple. Most breast disorders are not cancer, and even in the remaining number of cancer cases, more than 90% are curable, if detected early and promptly treated.

Although mammograms, like many other medical tests, are not 100% accurate, scheduling a regular mammogram represents the best radiological way to find breast changes early before there are any obvious signs or symptoms of cancer. Several studies show that mammogram can reduce breast cancer deaths by more than a third.

History of mammograms

Mammography started in 1960, but modern mammography has existed only since 1969 when the first X-ray units dedicated to breast imaging were available. By 1976, mammography as a screening device became standard practice. Its value in diagnosis was recognized. Mammography continues to improve as lower doses of radiation are detecting even smaller potential problems earlier.

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BRCA Genes and Your Breast Cancer Risk

Medical Author: Melissa Stöppler, MD
Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

BRCA, known as the "breast cancer gene," is one of several genetic mutations (alterations in the body's genetic material) that have been associated with the development of breast and ovarian cancer. Changes in two genes, known as BRCA1 and BRCA2 (short for breast cancer 1 and breast cancer 2), can be inherited and lead to a markedly increased risk for developing breast cancer and ovarian cancer.

Only about 5% of women with breast cancer are found to carry a mutated BRCA gene. Studies have confirmed that women who carry these BRCA mutations have a high risk for development of breast cancer, about five times that of women who do not have BRCA gene alterations. Overall, around 12% of all women will get breast cancer during their lifetime; in contrast, around 60% of women with a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation will get the disease. Having a BRCA mutation also predisposes a woman to developing breast cancer at an early age (before menopause). The incidence of BRCA mutation is higher in some ethnic groups, such as people of Ashkenazi (European) Jewish origin and in some populations in Iceland, the Netherlands, and Norway.

Men who carry one of the BRCA mutations also have an increased risk for breast cancer.

BRCA mutations also increase the risk of ovarian cancer. About 1.7% of women in the general population get ovarian cancer as compared with 15% to 40% of women with BRCA1 or BRCA 2 mutations....

Read What Your Physician is Reading on Medscape

Mammography - Computer-Aided Detection »

Computer-aided detection (CAD) for mammography is a new and evolving topic in the realm of breast radiology.

Read More on Medscape Reference »

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