Mammogram | Cardinal Bernardin Cancer Center | Loyola Medicine


Screening and Diagnostic Exams for Early Detection of Breast Cancer

A mammogram is an imaging test that uses low-energy X-rays to examine the breast to screen for and diagnose breast cancer. Mammograms aid in the early detection of breast cancer, which helps to successfully treat breast cancer and improve patient outcomes. 

The American Cancer Society and Loyola Medicine’s breast care specialists recommend yearly mammograms to screen for breast cancer beginning at age 40 (or earlier if you are at high risk for breast cancer). Regular breast screenings are the most effective way to detect signs of breast cancer early, when your chances for successful treatment are the highest. Learn more about our Breast Cancer Screening Guidelines

Why Choose Loyola for Your Mammogram? 

At Loyola, the highly experienced breast care staff will expertly handle your screening, while making sure you are comfortable, answering any questions you may have, and easing your concerns. With five screening locations in the western and southwestern Chicago suburbs, Loyola makes it easy to schedule an annual screening mammogram in your neighborhood. You will need to have a physician's referral to have your mammogram performed. 

Loyola is committed to the screening and early detection of breast cancer. As an academic medical center affiliated with Loyola University Stritch School of Medicine, our doctors have access to extensive clinical research, state-of-the-art facilities, the latest technology and clinical trials. This allows us to provide the best possible detection, diagnosis and treatment for breast cancer.

What are the Different Types of Mammograms?

There are two types of mammograms used to detect and diagnose breast cancer: 

  • Screening mammograms are performed on women without any breast symptoms or findings on clinical breast exam. Screening mammograms are recommended yearly starting at age 40 to look for any signs of cancer in the breast. Yearly screening mammograms should continue as long as a woman is in good health.
  • A diagnostic mammogram is obtained in women with a specific breast problem, such as a palpable breast or underarm lump, certain skin changes involving the breast, abnormal nipple discharge and focal (less than ¼ of the breast) or pinpoint breast pain. Diagnostic mammograms are also used in the evaluation of women with abnormal screening mammograms who are called back for additional views.

    At Loyola, diagnostic mammograms are also obtained in all women with a history of breast cancer or known high-risk breast lesion and may also be ordered in women with breast implants and women who are repeatedly called back for additional imaging following routine screening mammogram. Diagnostic mammograms are performed in the same way as a screening mammogram, but additional images of the breast may be taken to get a closer look at areas of concern within the breast.

    Some diagnostic mammograms will be followed by a breast ultrasound examination targeted over the area of concern. A diagnostic mammogram may reveal that an area that looked abnormal on a screening mammogram is actually normal, or that the area of abnormal tissue is probably benign and not likely cancer, but should be rechecked in several months. Sometimes, the results may suggest that a breast biopsy is needed to see if the abnormal tissue is cancerous. Be assured that one of our dedicated breast radiologists will directly oversee your examination and issue a written report to you when your diagnostic examination is complete.

What to Expect During Your Mammogram

A mammogram is not an invasive procedure and does not require prior preparation other than avoiding the use of deodorant, powders, creams or lotions in or around your breasts and underarms since these items may cause artifacts that can be confused with abnormal calcifications. When you have a mammogram, you will be asked to undress above the waist and be given a modest covering, and a technologist will carefully and gently position your breasts for the procedure.

To ensure a high-quality image, it is necessary to adequately compress your breasts in order to be able to properly examine your breast tissue and detect possible subtle findings of breast cancer. The technologist will place your breast between two plates to compress your breast while the X-ray is taken. While you may feel some discomfort during the breast compression, it only lasts a few seconds and does not cause lasting discomfort. A screening mammogram at Loyola takes approximately 10-15 minutes. 

Digital Mammography Improves Accuracy 

Digital mammography is the standard for mammography and is used in more than 95% of mammography facilities in the United States. In 2008, Loyola became the first academic medical center in the Chicago area to use digital mammography exclusively throughout its health system. 

Digital mammography uses a special detector to capture and convert X-ray energy into a digital image that can then be viewed on a computer screen. This digital ability allows our radiologists to immediately view the images, thereby enabling them to make decisions about the need for any additional images to be taken at the time of examination. Digital mammograms also give the radiologists the ability to adjust, magnify or zoom in on specific areas which especially helps in the detection of small calcifications, masses and other subtle changes that may be signs of early breast cancer. In particular, digital mammography has been shown to be most useful in the detection of cancer in premenopausal and perimenopausal women and in women who have dense breasts. 

Building on the success of digital mammography in the detection of breast cancer, a recent advance in breast imaging adds an older radiology technique, tomography, to digital mammography, giving the radiologist a set of 3D images. Digital breast tomosynthesis, or 3D mammography, is now available at Loyola for both screening and diagnostic mammography. DBT (digital breast tomosynthesis) is a special type of mammography that produces a 3-dimentional image of the breast using low dose x-rays obtained at different angles. The breast is positioned in the same manner as during conventional digital mammography, but the x-ray tube moves in a circular motion around the breast. DBT has been shown to increase the detection of invasive breast cancer by as much as 40 percent compared to conventional mammography and to significantly decrease the number of patients recalled for questionable findings on screening mammography, again by as much as 40 percent. 3D mammography takes minimally more time than digital mammography and may be obtained in conjunction with traditional 2D digital mammography. 

What are the Risks of a Mammogram?

Mammography is the most powerful breast cancer detection tool and carries very little risk. However, mammograms are not a perfect tool, and may produce a false positive or false negative test result. Although the effects of a false positive or false negative test can be stressful, the benefits of a mammogram far outweigh the risks of not having yearly breast screenings.