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Receive a Screening or Diagnostic Mammogram at UPMC in North Central Pa.

A screening mammogram is an X-ray examination of the breast in a woman who has no breast cancer symptoms. A diagnostic mammogram may be recommended for someone who shows symptoms of breast cancer or has an abnormality during a routine mammogram.

The goal of a screening mammogram is to find breast cancer or a lump in the breast when it is still too small for you or your doctor to feel.

A screening mammogram usually takes two X-rays of each breast. For some patients, more pictures may be needed to include as much breast tissue as possible. If you have dense breasts, we recommend a 3D mammogram. Screening mammograms can drastically improve a woman's chance for successful treatment by finding small cancers early.

A diagnostic mammogram is an x-ray examination of the breast for a woman who shows breast cancer symptoms or has an abnormality discovered during a screening mammogram. More images are taken during a diagnostic mammogram to allow the doctor to study the breast tissue carefully.

Diagnostic indications include:

  • Breast pain
  • Nipple discharge
  • Breast lump
  • Skin dimpling
  • Nipple retraction
  • Previous history of breast cancer or previous abnormal mammogram

Sometimes, a diagnostic mammogram reveals that an abnormal area of tissue is not likely to be cancer, and the patient simply returns for a follow-up in four to six months. If the doctor decides the breast tissue is suspicious and needs to be biopsied, the next step may be minimally invasive breast surgery or a more advanced breast biopsy, depending on the individual case. About 80% percent of all breast lesions and breast lumps that are biopsied are found to be benign (non-cancerous) when evaluated under the microscope.

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Mammograms at UPMC

Talking to your primary care physician is very important; discuss the importance of self-breast examination and screening mammograms. Always talk to your physician if you have a concern or question. If you need to schedule a mammogram, your physician will give you a referral or you can call one of our locations directly.

What is a Mammogram?

For over 40 years, mammograms have given breast health specialists advanced diagnostic imaging to detect breast diseases, breast cancer and other breast issues in women, such as lumps in the breast, breast pain, or nipple discharge. Mammography uses x-ray technology to determine if breast tissue is suspected of abnormal cell growth and to determine if a breast biopsy is needed.

The mammogram machine compresses the breast to spread breast tissue apart. This allows an accurate x-ray picture using a lower dose of radiation. The results are read by our dedicated breast radiologists.

When to Have a Mammogram

It is recommended that women who have no symptoms and are at average risk for breast cancer should begin screening mammography at age 40. For women ages 20 to 40, a clinical breast examination is suggested at least every three years.

Every woman is different. As she ages, recommendations for screening are based on her current health status and estimated life expectancy. As long as a woman is in good health (with a life expectancy exceeding five years) she should continue with yearly mammography.

Increased-risk women have a family history of:

  • Breast cancer at a young age
  • Breast cancers affecting both sides of the chest
  • Ovarian and breast cancers
  • Male breast cancers

Most early breast cancers cause no symptoms, as it sometimes takes years for the disease to progress. When breast cancer is detected at an early stage (when it hasn't spread to the lymph nodes) the five year survival rate is 97 percent.

If you have an increased risk for developing breast cancer, the American Cancer Society recommends that you check with your health care provider to schedule an appropriate breast screening for you. Knowing your risk is important for you and your family members. At UPMC we offer genetic testing, breast cancer risk assessments, and educational tools to give you all of the information you need.

Women who have breast cancer symptoms, such as a lump in the breast, breast pain, or nipple discharge should check with their health care professional to determine whether or not mammography is recommended, regardless of age or time between mammograms.

We recommend browsing our mammography guidelines to see commonly asked questions regarding breast health, including when to have a mammogram.

How to Prepare for a Mammogram

  • Having the results of a prior mammogram sent to your appointment if you’ve had one at a different facility.
  • Not using deodorant, lotion, powder or perfume under your arms (these can create shadows on your mammogram).
  • Do not schedule to have the exam before or after your period.
  • Letting your provider know if you have breast implants.
  • Wearing pants, shorts or a skirt so you don’t have to undress completely.