A screening mammogram uses specialized X-ray technology to take a series of images of the breasts and provide a detailed look at the internal structure of breast tissue. Occasionally you may be asked to return for additional breast imaging, such as a diagnostic mammogram or breast ultrasound.
In the case of a call back, a diagnostic mammogram is performed to examine a specific area of concern, to assess a change in the breast tissue compared to previous images, or to investigate an abnormality.
A diagnostic breast ultrasound uses high frequency sound waves to see the internal structure of your breast. It can be requested to examine a specific area of concern that has been identified on a mammogram. Breast ultrasound helps provide a more detailed look at any areas of concern and ensures you have received a complete breast exam.
If it is determined on a mammogram that you have high breast density, supplemental imaging may be requested in the form of an automated breast ultrasound.
Dense breast tissue can only be determined by mammography and is not something that can be felt or seen. Dense breasts have less fat and more glandular tissue, which can make it difficult to detect changes in the breast and small cancers may be hidden. Very dense breast tissue can also increase breast cancer risk. Using both mammography and ultrasound together can help provide a more complete picture of your dense breast tissue.
According to the Canadian Cancer Society, one in eight Canadian women will be affected by a breast cancer diagnosis in their lifetime. However, if cancer is found early, the five-year survival rate is 93 percent for stage 2 cancers and 100 percent for stage 1 cancers.
The best way to detect breast cancer early is through regular screening mammograms. Your Alberta Health Care Insurance Plan covers yearly mammograms starting at age 40. Having regular mammograms allows a radiologist to compare your images from year to year, identifying changes that may be occurring in the breast over time.
Mayfair Diagnostics follows the Canadian Association of Radiologists guidelines and recommends yearly mammograms from age 40 to 49. After that it’s recommended that women have a mammogram every two years from age 50 to 74. However, if you have a first-degree relative (parent, sibling, child) with a family history of breast cancer or your own medical history indicates a higher risk of developing breast cancer, your doctor may recommend continuing to have mammogram every year over age 50.
As part of the Alberta Breast Screening program, women 50-74 years of age do not need a referral from a doctor to have a screening mammogram. After age 75, screening frequency will depend on your medical history and should be discussed with your doctor. It is also important to be aware of any changes in your breasts, such as new pain or lump, nipple discharge, or any heat or redness and to report those to your doctor.
The amount of radiation exposure from mammography is comparable to the exposure every person gets from the earth’s natural background radiation from living in Calgary over a period of six months. In most cases, the benefits of detecting breast cancer early with mammography outweighs the risk of exposure to this low dose of radiation.
During a mammogram, two X-ray plates slowly move together, compressing the breast for a short amount of time. This compression is necessary to get the clearest images of your breast tissue using the least amount of radiation. Since individuals experience pain differently, there may be some discomfort during the very short interval when the breast tissue is being compressed, however it should be minimal.
Mayfair Diagnostics uses the latest in mammogram technology – the GE Senographe Pristina Dueta mammography system – at four Calgary locations. This system was designed with patient comfort in mind. With Pristina, you are offered the option to use a handheld remote control – called patient-assisted compression. Under the guidance of the technologist, you are able to adjust the level of compression. This allows you to play a more active role in determining the best level of breast compression, making for a positive mammogram experience and increasing your likelihood of continuing to receive regular screening exams.
Mayfair Diagnostics has 11 locations that offer mammography exams, including Mahogany Village, Market Mall, Mayfair Place, and Southcentre locations which have the new Pristina mammography system that helps provide a more comfortable mammogram. Visit our breast imaging page for more information.
Canadian Association of Radiologists (2016) “CAR Practice Guidelines and Technical Standards for Breast Imaging and Intervention.” www.car.ca. Accessed October 9, 2020.
Canadian Society of Breast Imaging (2018) The Canadian Society of Breast Imaging response to the new CTFPHC Guidelines. www.csbi.ca. Accessed October 9, 2020.
Coldman, A., et al (2014) “Pan-Canadian Study of Mammography Screening and Mortality from Breast Cancer.” Journal of the National Cancer Institute. November 2014, 106 (11).
Monticciolo, Dr. et al. (2018) “Current Issues in the Overdiagnosis and Overtreatment of Breast Cancer.” American Journal of Roentgenology. February 2018, 210 (2). Accessed October 9, 2020.
Tabar, L., et al. (2018) “The incidence of fatal breast cancer measures the increased effectiveness of therapy in women participating in mammography screening.” Cancer. Accessed October 9, 2020.