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Reasons for a Diagnostic Mammogram & Ultrasound

By Gail Morris ; Updated August 14, 2017

Mammograms are screening evaluations of breast tissue. With recent advances in technology, these screening tools have reduced the number of women who are diagnosed with breast cancer at later stages. Combined with the advancements in treatment, the five-year survival rate for localized breast cancer now hovers around 98 percent, according to the National Cancer Institute. Mammograms, ultrasounds and self-breast examination are the three most important pieces of an early diagnosis and treatment plan.

Questions After Screening

Diagnostic mammograms and ultrasounds of the breast are used to differentiate any benign or potentially cancerous abnormalities in breast tissue. During a screening mammogram, low dose X-rays are used which gives a general overview of breast tissue. In approximately 10 percent of mammogram screenings, an additional diagnostic evaluation will be requested for a more detailed view of the tissue using magnification and spot compression.

Size and Location

A diagnostic mammogram is used to pinpoint the exact size and location of any breast abnormality. It is also able to image the surrounding tissue so physicians are best able to diagnose the problem. Although diagnostic mammogram and ultrasound can help distinguish between suspicious and benign tumors, biopsy is the only definitive method to diagnose breast cancer.

Differentiation

Diagnostic ultrasound imaging can be used to evaluate lumps that are hard to see in diagnostic mammograms and differentiate between solid tumors and fluid-filled cysts. When a screening or diagnostic mammogram detects a tumor, the physician may order a diagnostic ultrasound to complete the picture prior to ordering a needle biopsy. A Doppler ultrasound can also be used to determine the blood supply to a breast lesion.

New Problems

A diagnostic mammogram is often ordered when a woman discovers a new lump or change in her breast tissue. Physicians use the results to evaluate the new problem and decide if further imaging studies are required to rule out cancer. Results of the diagnostic exam are usually given to the patient as she is leaving the examination. Those results are then immediately available to her private physician.

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