How You Can Get the Best, Most Accurate Mammogram

4 ways to partner with the technologist
Radiology technician examines mammography test

You probably never thought you could have a role in ensuring that your mammogram is as accurate as possible in detecting breast cancer. Women often don’t realize they can improve the quality of their mammography results by doing a few simple, critical things:

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1. Cooperate as the technologist positions you

A screening mammogram consists of two views of each breast: one view in which the breast is compressed from top to bottom (called craniocaudal) and one view in which the breast is compressed at a 45 degree angle (called mediolateral oblique).

The technologist’s goal is to give every patient the best mammogram. In order to detect breast cancer, the radiologists must see the entire breast. The technologist attempts to pull as much breast tissue into the picture as possible.

While it may not be the most comfortable positioning, the technologist is working to include all the breast tissue, especially the extreme posterior breast tissue, in order to be sure that breast cancer is not missed simply because it was not included on the image.

Work with your technologist by being as cooperative and accommodating as you can while he or she positions you. Remember that the technologist must make sure your entire breast is included on the image for the best result.

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2. Allow for breast compression

Mammography compresses the breast tissue. Normal breast tissue flattens like a sponge with compression. Breast masses and especially breast cancer do not flatten with compression and actually become more conspicuous, which enables the radiologist to detect them.

Allowing for adequate compression will enable the radiologist to see through the breast tissue and better detect breast cancer. Remember that while compression is uncomfortable, it’s only necessary for a few moments. The more you can tolerate with an attitude of patience, the more you are supporting the most accurate reading.

3. Try not to move; hold your breath while images are taken

When a patient moves during the exam, it limits the evaluation of the breast tissue. In order to read a mammogram, the radiologist enlarges each mammographic image on the viewing station. The smallest amount of motion during the examination can result in blurring of the image.

Calcifications, which can be an early sign of breast cancer, are not easily detected when the mammographic image is blurred by motion. Therefore, it is very important to hold your breath when the technologist is taking the image.

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4. Bring prior mammogram images with you for comparison

When reading a mammogram, the radiologist compares it to prior images, which are essential to helping him or her detect small changes from year to year. Giving the radiologist reference to past exams gives you the best chance of early, subtle breast cancer detection. Therefore, if you have prior mammograms, be sure to bring the images to your radiologist.

To detect breast cancer, it’s empowering to realize that you have a role that can assist your healthcare team. Early detection is every woman’s best hope of a cure.

Contributor: Paulette Turk, MD

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