How can I get the most accurate mammogram results?

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Several elements help make a mammogram as accurate as possible. While they may be physically uncomfortable, understanding why they are done and cooperating with the technologist administering your mammogram can help the process.

Positioning is very important for a good mammogram. Cancer likes to hide in the posterior, superior and lateral portions of the breast, which are the hardest spots to include on the mammogram. That is why the technologist pushes and pulls as much tissue on the imaging plate as possible.

The other difficult part of a mammogram is the compression. We all wonder why the technologist has to squeeze so hard. The reason is that the radiologists instruct them to.

Motion is an enemy when it comes to mammograms. This is why the technologist has you hold your breath the moment the picture is taken. Tiny micro-calcifications and motion do not mix. The motion on the image may hide the calcifications, making the radiologist unable to see them.

Mammograms are read by human beings, and unfortunately, human beings aren’t perfect, so there might be false readings. But if you, the radiologist and technologist work together, false readings can be brought down to practically nothing.

Mammography is not a perfect science. Besides missing about 10 percent of cancers, it has also been known to sound false alarms, sometimes leading to surgical biopsies that later turned out to be unnecessary. Fortunately, there are things women can do to increase their likelihood of an accurate exam. The American Cancer Society recommends the following:

  • Go to an imaging center that either specializes in mammograms or does many mammograms a day; more experienced centers tend to have better accuracy rates.
  • If you like the center, go there for all future mammograms; this makes it easier to compare your tests from year to year.
  • If you've had mammograms someplace else, make every attempt to bring or transfer the previous mammograms to the new center.
  • Don't wear deodorant; it can look like calcium spots on the X-ray film.
  • Discuss any unusual symptoms with the technologist and doctor, and be prepared to discuss your medical history.
Dr. Elisa R. Port, MD
Surgical Oncologist

False positives in mammography can occasionally result in unnecessary procedures. In this video, Elisa Port, MD, a surgeon at The Mount Sinai Medical Center, explains what the risks are for false positives.

Dr. Susanne M. Chow, MD
Diagnostic Radiologist

You will get the most accurate results if you have your examinations at an ACR accredited facility and read by a Radiologist with specialized training in breast imaging.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.