What is a screening mammogram?
A screening mammogram is an X-ray of the breasts for women who have not noticed any symptoms or Breast health. Screening mammograms usually involve two X-ray pictures of each breast. The X‑ray pictures can find cancers as small as a grain of rice before you or your doctor can feel any changes in your breasts.
Screening mammography is currently the only clinically proven way to detect breast cancer early.
All screening mammograms are read independently by two specialist doctors, and the results are usually posted within 14 days. Results are also posted to the woman's doctor if she wishes. As this test looks only for Breast cancer, a report describing any benign (non-cancerous) breast changes will not be provided.
What is a diagnostic mammogram?
When a woman has a diagnostic mammogram, the specialist is present and can produce X-rays focused on the area of concern. She also receives a detailed report describing any benign (non-cancerous) and/or malignant (cancerous) changes that may be present.
A doctor's referral is required for a diagnostic mammogram, and may be performed in a public hospital or private radiology practice. It may incur a cost, however a Medicare rebate is available.
Digital mammography is a technique that uses a computer, rather than film, to record X-ray images of the breast. While the actual process of taking the mammogram still uses X-rays and the breast still needs to be pressed to ensure a clear image is obtained, the speed of digital means appointment times can be halved.
Radiation from mammography
Some women may be concerned about radiation from having a screening mammogram, but did you know:
- the level of radiation you receive is low, similar to that from many X-rays people commonly have
- the radiation dose is minimised by firmly pressing the breast for a few seconds
- the benefits of having regular screening mammograms outweigh any possible risk from radiation exposure.
Over diagnosis from screening
Most breast cancers found through screening are progressive and would become symptomatic within the women’s lifetime if left untreated. Research is underway to find means of identifying cancers at minimal risk of progression. See our position statement on over diagnosis from screening.
Alternatives to mammography screening
Screening mammography is currently the only clinically proven way to detect breast cancer early. Consult your doctor for advice and further information.