Harvard Vanguard is pleased to announce that our Somerville practice now offers digital mammography services. Harvard Vanguard and Atrius Health currently offer three convenient locations for digital mammography – Harvard Vanguard’s Kenmore and Somerville practices and the Atrius Health Imaging Center in Weymouth. Harvard Vanguard’s Chelmsford practice currently provides analog mammography services but will offer digital mammography in early 2012.
Mammograms are one of the most important tools clinicians have to help them evaluate the breast. They are also a critical tool to follow women who’ve had breast cancer. Although mammograms do not prevent breast cancer, they can save lives by finding breast cancer as early as possible.
Below please find answers to questions we often get asked about digital mammography and mammography in general.
What is a digital mammogram?
A mammogram is a special type of x-ray that is used to examine breast tissue and help with the diagnosis of breast cancer and other breast conditions.
In digital mammography, x-ray beams are captured on specially designed digital detectors. The digital detector converts the x-ray beams into electronic signals, which are then sent to a computer and our board-certified radiologists can review the digital mammogram on a high-resolution computer monitor.
Studies have shown digital mammography to be significantly more accurate than screen-film (analog) mammography in women with dense breast tissue and women who are premenopausal or perimenopausal.
Who should have mammograms?
The American Cancer Society recommends that all women have an annual screening mammogram beginning at age 40. Women with certain risk factors should discuss an appropriate screening program with their clinician. If you are pregnant or think you may be pregnant, talk to your clinician before scheduling a mammogram.
How can I practice good breast health?
Good breast health starts with good routine care. Perform a monthly breast self-exam and have a yearly breast exam by your clinician. Call your clinician if you notice any breast changes, lumps, thickening, swelling, nipple discharge or nipple retraction. Get screening mammograms as recommended by your clinician. Avoid alcohol, exercise regularly, and maintain a healthy weight.
How should I prepare for a mammogram?
If you have had mammograms in different facilities, call those facilities in advance and arrange to have your previous mammograms, reports and any other treatment reports forwarded to the radiology department prior to your mammogram appointment.
Do not wear antiperspirant, powder or cream under your arms because these may interfere with the quality of your mammogram. Wear a two piece outfit since you will be asked to undress from the waist up.
How is digital mammography performed?
After undressing from the waist up, you will be given a gown to wear during the mammogram.
You and a technologist will be the only people present during the mammogram. The technologist will position each breast, one at a time, on the mammography equipment. Each breast will be compressed and images obtained.
Are digital mammograms painful?
Breast compression may cause some discomfort for a brief time during each x-ray. Any discomfort experienced after the exam should be relieved with aspirin or Tylenol. If you have sensitive breasts, schedule your mammogram at a time of the month when your breasts will be less tender. In general, the week after your period is when breasts are less tender.
What does it mean if I get called back for additional views?
On occasion, additional views are requested by the radiologist to better evaluate specific areas of the breast. Most additional views indicate no significant abnormality. The radiologist then dictates a report that is sent to your ordering clinician.
How will I get my results?
Your digital mammogram will be checked by the technologist and then by the board-certified radiologist. The radiologist reviews your x-rays and compares them with any prior mammograms. The radiologist then dictates a report that is sent to your ordering clinician.
The radiology/mammography department will notify you by letter of your results. If further follow-up is required, your clinician will call you to discuss next steps.
What training do the technologists and radiologists receive to perform and review this exam?
Our technologists are certified and registered by the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT) and licensed by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH). Our radiologists are all board certified in radiology and meet state requirements for reviewing and interpreting mammogram x-rays.
How is the digital mammography equipment maintained to ensure accuracy?
A licensed physicist performs annual tests on the equipment. Equipment service personnel perform maintenance checks of the equipment twice a year.