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Reading a mammogram

June 10, 2008 - 7:30am
 
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Reading a mammogram

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The mammogram is first checked by the technologist and then read by a diagnostic radiologist, a doctor who specializes in interpreting x-rays. The radiologist looks for unusual shadows, masses, distortions, special patterns of tissue density, and differences between the two breasts. The shape of a mass can be important too. A growth that is benign (noncancerous), such as a cyst, looks smooth and round and has a clearly defined edge. Breast cancer, in contrast, often has an irregular outline with finger-like extensions.

Many mammograms show nontransparent white specks. These are calcium deposits known as calcifications.

Macrocalcifications are coarse calcium deposits. They are usually found in women over 50 and are often seen in both breasts. Macrocalcifications are most likely due to aging or old injuries or inflammations, and they are typically associated with benign conditions.

Microcalcifications are tiny flecks of calcium found in an area of rapidly dividing cells. Clusters of numerous microcalcifications in one area can be an early sign of a localized form of breast cancer called ductal carcinoma in situ. About half of the cancers found by mammography are detected as clusters of microcalcifications.

The radiologist will report the findings from your mammogram directly to you or to your doctor, who will contact you with the results. If you need further tests or examinations, your doctor will let you know. If you don't get a report, call and ask for the results.

Your mammograms constitute an irreplaceable part of your health history. Being able to compare earlier mammograms with new x-rays helps your doctor evaluate areas that look suspicious. If you move, ask your radiologist for your films and hand-carry them to your new physician, so they can be kept with your file.

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