Mammography remains the gold standard in the early detection of breast cancer. Women should begin going for yearly mammogram screenings at the age of 40. However, some individuals with a strong family history of breast cancer may need to start getting mammograms earlier than that. If you have a family history, it’s important to talk to your physician about what’s best for you.
For example, if a patient’s mother developed breast cancer at a young age, the patient should begin screening for breast cancer 10 years earlier than when her mother was diagnosed.
There are two types of mammograms:
- Screening – mammograms administered to patients with no signs of problems.
- Diagnostic – mammograms administered when there is an abnormality found in a screening mammogram or a lump found during a breast exam.
Physicians recommend an annual screening mammogram to check for signs and symptoms of breast cancer. If there are any abnormalities, the physician may call the individual back for a follow-up, diagnostic mammogram and then a biopsy to see if the abnormality is cancerous or benign. Throughout this process, the physicians of our community work alongside patients to help them understand diagnostic results, decide what their next steps are, and recommend care that best suits the patient’s needs.
Three-dimensional mammography is steadily becoming the standard for annual screenings. These types of mammograms improve detection rates and decrease the amount of ‘false alarms’ because they take several images of the breast at different angles. This allows radiologists to examine the scan in ‘slices’–avoiding overlapping dense tissue that often hides or mimics malignancies.
During the 3D part of the exam, the x-ray arm sweeps in a slight arc over the breast, taking multiple images. Then a computer produces a 3D image of the breast tissue in one-millimeter slices, providing greater visibility for the radiologist to see breast detail in a way never before possible.
Drew Davis, MD, is a diagnostic radiologist in the Triad and a member of the Cone Health Medical and Dental Staff. Dr. Davis received a Bachelor of Science in economics and business administration from Eastern Carolina University in 2004. He completed medical school at the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University in 2008. Dr. Davis completed his residency and his body and breast imaging fellowship at Duke University Medical Center in 2013 and 2014, respectively.