Screening vs. Diagnostic Mammograms

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By News Team on October 3, 2018

Regardless of one’s stage in life – be it a young child getting a vaccination or a grown woman going in for a routine mammogram – it’s very important to get annual screenings and exams as part of a preventive health care plan.

For some women, however, the thought of an annual mammogram can evoke fear and stress.

“The truth is a 10- to 15-minute screening mammogram can help save your life,” said Eileen Kenny, M.D., breast imager and medical director of Carilion Clinic’s Breast Care Centers.

Carilion’s Breast Care Center recommends women age 40 and older get a mammogram every year. For women with higher risk factors, such as a family history of breast cancer, screenings may be recommended at an earlier age.

There are two types of mammograms: screening and diagnostic. By definition, a screening test is done to screen people who are at risk of developing a disease but do not have any symptoms.

A diagnostic mammogram is done to clarify suspected abnormalities on a screening mammogram or to evaluate a women with signs and symptoms of breast cancer or other breast problems.

After a mammogram and a breast ultrasound, a biopsy is sometimes needed to determine whether there is actually cancer in the breast.

“We make it very convenient for our patients,” Dr. Kenny said. “We can do biopsies in our facility in a timely manner, so a patient can return to work on the same day, if needed.”

Results of a diagnostic mammogram or a breast ultrasound are given to patients by the breast imager the same day as their testing. Biopsy results are usually given within two days.

“It’s important to us to let our patients know their results as soon as possible,” Dr. Kenny said.

If you have an appointment scheduled for a routine screening mammogram, but feel something abnormal in your breasts, don’t wait for that appointment. Call your doctor as soon as possible. You will need an order for a diagnostic mammogram instead.  

“The goal of screening is to save lives,” Dr. Kenny said. “The earlier cancer is found, the more treatable it is, and the greater chance a person has of surviving. Make screening part of your yearly health routine.”

Remember, mammograms save lives! Schedule yours today.