What is mammography?
Mammography is a diagnostic imaging technique that consists of radiological examination of the breast using low energy X-rays, obtaining a radiographic image of the breast, used for the diagnosis of breast diseases, and in a special way, for the early detection of breast cancer, ie for the diagnosis of breast cancer in its early stages.
What is the process of mammography?
Mammograms are performed on an outpatient basis by suitably qualified technical personnel (radiology technicians), and will then be interpreted by an experienced radiologist in breast pathology.
The devices used to perform the mammography are called mammographs, and are devices specially designed for the exclusive performance of mammograms.
To perform the mammogram, the technician will place the breast on a platform of plastic material, then proceed to compress it properly by another plate of the same material. In this way we will obtain radiographic images of the breasts, from different angles (projections), usually a cranial-caudal (horizontal) projection and an oblique-lateral projection of each breast.
Although the compression of the breast can occasionally cause some pain, it is necessary to reduce the thickness of the breast, which improves the quality of the images obtained and at the same time reduces the dose of radiation deposited in the breast tissue.
The procedure for obtaining mammography of the breasts comes to last approximately 20 minutes.
Why is this test done?
Mammography is used for the diagnosis of breast diseases, but where it plays an important role it is in the programs of screening (early diagnosis) of breast cancer in asymptomatic women.
It is believed that early detection of breast cancer decreases mortality rates in women who undergo these screening programs.
The American College of Radiology recommends starting at age 40 the annual mammographic controls.
The aim of early detection programs is to diagnose small lesions, generally smaller than 1 cm. diameter.
Early screening programs for breast cancer will detect 6-10 breast cancers per 1,000 women on the first screening, and 2-4 cancers per 1,000 women on subsequent scans.
In addition to its use for the early detection of breast cancer, mammography plays a very important role in monitoring patients who have been previously diagnosed and treated for breast cancer.
What benefits does it bring to the patient?
The primary benefit of mammography is the early detection of breast cancer in asymptomatic women, which translates into a considerable reduction in breast cancer mortality rates (29-45%).
Additionally, the early detection of cancer allows less aggressive local treatments, which will preserve the breast, avoiding its amputation, with the consequent improvement of the quality of life of the patients.
What are the risks of mammograms?
The main risk of mammography is the use of ionizing radiation (x-rays) and the subsequent absorption of radiation doses by the breast tissue, with the potential risk of inducing breast cancer. Therefore, this potential risk should not be ignored, but it is also true that the risk must be assessed along with the benefit obtained from the mammography.
The estimated risk for the appearance of breast cancer by the use of X-rays for diagnostic purposes is very low in relation to the rate of cancers detected in early detection programs, and the benefit has already been mentioned which is obtained in the reduction of mortality with the programs of early detection.
There is no scientific evidence to show that with the current dose ranges given to mammary tissue in mammography the induction of breast cancer is induced.