DEFINITION: Mammograms play a key role in early breast cancer detection and help decrease breast cancer deaths. A mammogram is an X-ray image of your breast that is used to screen and detect breast cancer. A mammogram can be used for either screening or for diagnostic purposes. How often you should have a mammogram depends on your age and your risk of breast cancer.

Diagnostic mammography is used to investigate suspicious breast changes, such as a breast lump, breast pain, an unusual skin appearance, nipple thickening or nipple discharge. It's also used to evaluate abnormal findings from a screening mammogram. A diagnostic mammogram is different from a screening mammogram in that a diagnostic mammogram may include additional images of the breast, such as magnification and compression views.

WHAT TO EXPECT: For your diagnostic mammogram, you will be asked to remove neck jewelry and clothing from the waist up and change into a gown. To make this easier, wear a two-piece outfit on the day of your mammogram.

For the mammography procedure, you will stand in front of an X-ray platform. The technologist will raise or lower the platform to match your height before placing your breast on a plate attached to the platform. The technologist will help position your head, arms and torso to allow an unobstructed view of your breast.

Your breast is gradually pressed against the opposite plate and pressure is applied for a few seconds to spread out the breast tissue in between the two plates. Your breast must be compressed to even out its thickness and permit the X-rays to penetrate the breast tissue properly. You will then be asked to stand still while the technologist takes the short X-ray image.

You may be asked to hold your breath during the study. You may find the pressure uncomfortable or slightly painful. If you have too much discomfort, please notify the technician so shecan assist in helping make you more comfortable.

Afterward, you will be asked to have a seat in our waiting room while our radiologist views the images and determines if they need further X-rays or ultrasound images to gain more information about your breast tissue. If follow-up images are necessary, you will be directed to the proper exam room by our technologist, who will explain the follow-up procedure.

Our radiologist will then evaluate the follow-up images and speak to you about the results before you are sent home. This entire process usually takes between two and three hours.

HOW TO PREPARE: Schedule your mammogram for a time when your breasts are least likely to be tender. If you have a menstrual period, your breasts are most likely to be tender the week before and the week during your period.

If you had previous mammograms completed at another facility, please bring images of those studies with you to your appointment so that the radiologist can compare them to your new images.

Avoid using deodorants, antiperspirants, powders, lotions, creams or perfumes under your arms or on your breasts. Metallic particles in these products could be visible on your mammogram and decrease the accuracy of your reading.

RESULTS: Once our radiologists have all of the images they need to perform a complete analysis of your breast, they will interpret the images and send a written report of the findings to your referring physician or primary care doctor within 24-48 hours. You will also receive a letter from the breast center explaining your results within seven days.

If our radiologists note areas of concern on your mammogram, further testing may be required, such as breast ultrasound, imaging or (MRI) for the breast. A follow-up procedure (biopsy) such as an ultrasound guided tissue core biopsy or a stereotactic X-ray tissue guided biopsy are also sometimes necessary.