Diagnostic Mammogram: What's the Difference?

Updated: Oct 14

There is a lot of misinformation going around about mammography. Many women think it hurts or they will be exposed to excess radiation. Of course, a lot of them don’t get mammograms simply because they are embarrassed by it. We are trying to break the stigma about mammograms so every woman can have a fighting chance at the face of breast cancer. Early diagnosis saves lives and diagnostic mammograms are the first step of the way.


diagnostic mammogram

What is a diagnostic mammogram?

Every woman above the age of 40 should get mammograms every two years. They are called screening mammograms and you need them to see If you have any symptoms of breast cancer. A diagnostic mammogram, however, is a different, longer procedure. It is needed to evaluate abnormalities detected on a screening mammogram or because of special circumstances. It uses low doses of x-rays to determine whether or not the symptom you are experiencing is related to breast cancer.


Who needs a diagnostic mammogram?

Not everyone needs a diagnostic mammogram. You can go to your regular screening mammogram appointment and be done with it. However, in some cases, doctors may need to evaluate the situation, or you just have a higher risk of getting breast cancer. That is where the diagnostic mammogram comes in.


Women with breast cancer symptoms

Lumps, pain in the breast, swelling, and redness are all symptoms of breast cancer. If you have these symptoms your doctor will most likely recommend you get a diagnostic mammogram. Since they are more detailed than screening mammograms, it is the best way to determine what is causing these symptoms.


Women with a family history of breast cancer

If you have an immediate member of your family who had breast cancer your risk of BRCA1, BRCA2 and CHEK2 genes that were passed on. Doctors usually recommend you get a mammogram once every two years, but high-risk patients should get them annually so that they can catch any signs as early as possible.


Women who have had a previous abnormal mammogram

If you have had a breast cancer risk scare because of a previous mammogram you should get a diagnostic mammogram. This includes women who previously has breast cancer because is a 3% to 15% chance that it will reoccur.


breast cancer

What are the benefits of a diagnostic mammogram?

Not all abnormalities in your breasts are cancerous but they can be. Mammograms can detect them two years before you get cancer from the symptoms you are experiencing. A diagnostic mammogram is one of the best ways to detect the problem and find the most suitable treatment option for you.


A diagnostic mammogram can detect breast cancer early

An early diagnosis is important to increase your fighting chance of cancer. Diagnostic mammograms are important to do so because they can find tumors that are too small to feel. They can also spot abnormal cells in a milk duct also known as ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS).


Mammograms can find abnormalities in the tissue by spotting tumors and abnormal cells called microcalcifications which might be signs of invasive cancer later down the line.


A diagnostic mammogram can help to identify the best treatment options

A diagnostic mammogram can help doctors see whether you have a tumor or how much cancer has progressed. After a diagnostic mammogram, your doctor might want to do an ultrasound and/or a biopsy. According to the results If you have cancer, a treatment plan will be shared with you.


A diagnostic mammogram can help to ease a woman's anxiety

A change or a lump in your breast does not always indicate cancer but we usually tend to think of the worst-case scenario. In this case, it is breast cancer. A diagnostic mammogram can help to determine if issues like these really signify an underlying disease. Often results come back without flagging any significant breast cancer symptoms you need to worry about. Knowing that they are not caused by cancer can help with anxiety.


A diagnostic mammogram can help to reduce the cost of treatment

This is because more often than not, treating cancer at early-stage results in a shorter overall duration of treatment and reduced risk for complications. Additionally, early diagnosis means that less tissue is removed during surgery – meaning a higher chance for future malignant growths.


A diagnostic mammogram can help to improve the chances of survival

Detection by mammography not only saves lives by helping women catch their cancers in an early stage but also reduces suffering caused by invasive procedures like mastectomies or radiation therapy later down the line. In fact, every year over 25 thousand women worldwide die as a direct result of being diagnosed with breast cancer too late – meaning that diagnosing it at an earlier stage could have potentially saved their lives!


breast cancer survivor

Diagnostic mammogram vs screening mammogram. What is the difference?

A screening mammogram should be a standard procedure for every woman over the age of 40. A diagnostic mammogram is only necessary when your risk of getting breast cancer is high or doctors have caught something in your screening mammogram they want to examine further. It is also used to see abnormalities in the tissue that are too small to cause symptoms or be felt during a clinical breast exam.


To explain it further a screening mammogram is used to screen for breast cancer, while a diagnostic mammogram is used to look for abnormalities that may not cause symptoms yet may lead to cancer in the future. Other differences are while a screening mammogram usually takes 10-15 minutes a diagnostic mammogram can take much longer. Also, while it is not necessary for a professional to be present during a screening mammogram this does not apply to a diagnostic mammogram.


What are the steps of a diagnostic mammogram?

The first step of the way is getting an appointment. When you arrive at your doctor’s office, they will be with you every step of the way. A mammography machine does a diagnostic imaging test using a low dosage of X-rays. Your breasts are compressed within two surfaces and the machine examines the breast from the front and side. A digital tomosynthesis mammogram captures multiple images and assembles them into a three-dimensional image.

Slight discomfort is common, but some women don’t feel anything at all. This procedure usually takes 10-15 minutes but, in some cases, it can take up to 30 minutes.


breast cancer ribbon

How do I prepare for my diagnostic mammogram?

First of all, you should mentally prepare yourself, a mammogram can be stressful, especially for the first time, but it does not have to be. It is a standard procedure and 35% of women over the age of 40 get annual mammograms. Now that you know you are not alone in this journey let’s get you prepared on what you should do and what to expect.


Schedule your mammogram

Before getting an appointment, you should do your research. To avoid any surprises know your doctor, the hospital you are going to, and what the procedure will be like. To prepare for your mammogram, schedule it for a time when your breasts are least likely to be tender. Also avoid using deodorants, antiperspirants, powders, lotions, creams, or perfumes under your arms or on your breasts. Because metallic particles in powders and deodorants could be visible on your mammogram and cause confusion.


What to expect during your mammogram

If you had a prior mammogram, bring those images with you to the appointment so the radiologist can compare them with your new images. For those of you who never had a mammogram taken, what you need to do is to take off your shirt and your bra. The technician will give you something to cover up. You place your breasts in the plates to get their x-rays taken and that is it.


Follow up after your mammogram

You will get your results back in a varying amount of time. If your mammogram shows something abnormal, you will need follow-up tests such as a biopsy or an ultrasound.

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