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Diagnosing Breast Cancer

If an abnormality is detected during screening mammography, or in women with breast complaints, such as a breast mass, nipple discharge, breast pain, or skin irritation, a physician may recommend that additional x-rays of the breast be taken to provide different views of the suspicious area. The x-rays can be taken at different angles tailored to the specific area of abnormality. In addition, magnification views or spot compression can be used to make the area easier to evaluate.

Magnification views amplify the image by using enlarged views to show a specific area in greater detail. A magnification view is especially useful in evaluating microcalcifications

Spot compression is a technique that applies compression to a smaller area of the breast, creating better separation of the breast tissue. This technique makes abnormal-appearing areas easier to visualize and evaluate.

Diagnostic mammography cannot provide a definitive diagnosis of breast cancer, but it can be used to determine whether breast abnormalities have a high likelihood of being benign or whether a biopsy should be performed to determine if cancer is present.

A recommendation for diagnostic mammography is not necessarily a reason for concern. The majority of women who undergo diagnostic mammography are not diagnosed with breast cancer.

  • Only 1 or 2 mammograms out of every 1,000 lead to a diagnosis of breast cancer.
  • Approximately 10% of women will require additional mammography.
  • Only 8%-10% of those women will need to have a breast biopsy performed.
  • 70% to 80% of all breast biopsies show no sign of breast cancer.
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