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Screening and Diagnostic Mammography

A mammogram is a picture of the breast tissue. The picture is made using special low-dose X-ray equipment. UW Health in Madison, Wisconsin, uses only digital equipment for performing mammograms. Mammograms are reviewed by radiologists (physicians trained in evaluating imaging tests) who meet specific requirements for looking at these tests.


Screening Mammography


This test is used to check for breast cancer in women who have no breast concerns. If you have a breast concern, please talk to your health care provider first so a diagnostic mammogram or additional breast imaging (such as an ultrasound) can be done.


Screening typically involves two mammogram pictures of each breast. If a potential abnormality is found on your screening mammogram, you will be contacted to return for diagnostic mammogram pictures and sometimes breast ultrasound to better assess the area. This does not mean there is definitely a problem. Sometimes, it indicates there is overlapping breast tissue and a part of the breast needs to be seen in greater detail. These requests are common even for women who have healthy breasts. A UW Health staff member will contact you to schedule the appropriate appointments.


Diagnostic Mammography


This test checks for breast cancer when there is a lump or other sign or symptom in the breast. It also is used to further evaluate potential abnormalities found on screening mammograms. Diagnostic mammography involves one or more special pictures from different angles. These allow detailed evaluation of areas of possible concern.


What are the benefits and limitations of screening mammography?


Screening mammograms can find breast cancers early, when cancers are most treatable. Having screening mammograms has been shown to decrease the chances of dying from breast cancer. Mammograms are important, but they are not perfect. After a screening mammogram, you may be asked to return for further evaluation of an area that is then shown to not be cancer. This is called a "false positive." It happens in less than 10 percent of women who are screened, and in most cases, it can be resolved with additional mammogram pictures and sometimes breast ultrasound. In addition, mammograms find most but not all breast cancers. Several factors affect the likelihood of a "false negative," including the amount of fibroglandular or "dense" breast tissue on mammograms.


What are the UW Health recommendations for having screening mammography for women at average risk?


All of the major national guidelines recognize that the most breast cancer deaths are prevented with annual mammography beginning at age 40. However, in recognition of some patient preferences and mammography limitations, UW Health has established the following guidelines:


We recommend a screening mammogram every one to two years for women 50 to 74 years old who are at average risk for breast cancer.


Women between 40 and 49 with average risk factors should have a baseline screening mammogram, preferably at age 40.


We recommend screening mammograms for women ages 40 to 49 with average risk and for women 75 to 85 years old every one to two years based on a discussion with their health care provider about the risks and benefits of mammography.


Learn more about understanding your risk for developing breast cancer and screening for women at high risk


Before and During Your Mammogram


On the day of your mammogram, don’t wear deodorant, perfume, powders, ointment or glitter lotion of any kind in your underarm areas or on your breasts. Some of these products can create spots that look like abnormalities on the images.


Your mammogram appointment will take about 20 to 30 minutes. A specially trained radiology technologist will take the pictures. She will place each breast between two smooth flat plates and apply gentle but firm compression. For some patients, the compression may be slightly uncomfortable, but it is necessary to get the highest-quality pictures.


Your Mammogram Results


A radiologist who has special training will look at (read) your mammogram. In general, the images will be read within a few days. and a report will be sent to your health care provider. You will also receive a letter in the mail with your results.


Complete Breast Cancer Screening


Breast cancer screening involves these components for women at average risk for developing breast cancer.

  1. Be breast self-aware.
    Know what is normal for your breasts and be aware of changes. If you notice a change in your breast, see your healthcare provider to have it examined.
  2. Have regular screening mammograms.
    Screening mammograms are is the main test for breast cancer in women who have no known breast problems. UW Health’s recommendations for who should have a screening mammogram is above.

Scheduling Your Mammogram


There are two ways to schedule mammograms:


UW Health MyChart users can schedule them online. Learn more about UW Health MyChart


Otherwise, contact one of the following UW Health clinics to schedule a mammography. Please check with your insurance provider to determine which clinics are covered by your insurance plan. If you have questions, please call the Breast Center at UW Hospital and Clinics at (608) 266-6400 or the 1 S. Park Clinic at (608) 287-2050.