Mammography

At Massachusetts General Hospital, every mammogram is read by a radiologist who specializes in breast imaging. We use the latest imaging technology including breast tomosynthesis as our standard of care for all screening mammograms.
Request a Mammogram

Call to request a mammogram 617-724-9729

What is breast tomosynthesis?

About This Service

Massachusetts General Hospital Imaging provides mammography using the latest technology on our main campus in Boston and at our imaging locations in Waltham and Revere.

You can schedule a screening mammogram without a referral by calling a location directly or requesting an appointment online.

Breast Tomosynthesis

Pioneered at Mass General, breast tomosynthesis is a breakthrough in mammography that can offer better cancer detection, fewer call backs and greater peace of mind.

Learn More

Mammography Overview

At Mass General Imaging, breast tomosynthesis plus digital mammography is standard protocol for all screening mammograms, and every mammogram is read by a specialty-trained breast radiologist.

A mammogram is an X-ray performed by a trained professional called a mammographer who properly positions and compresses the breasts (crucial for high-quality images) and checks the images immediately for quality. It is performed both as a screening test and as a diagnostic exam.

Screening mammogram

  • Can begin at age 40 or earlier in some cases
  • Takes about 15 minutes
  • Results sent to you and your doctor

Diagnostic mammogram

  • Used when a closer look is needed or a specific clinical issue exists
  • Takes longer than a screening mammogram and may include using ultrasound to get another view
  • Results communicated to you following the exam; a multidisciplinary team coordinates next steps if needed

Mammography in Depth

What is a mammogram?

A mammogram is a special type of X-ray that is tuned to detect breast abnormalities. It is used to detect and evaluate breast abnormalities, both in women who have no breast complaints or symptoms, and in women who have breast symptoms (problems such as a lump, pain, or nipple discharge).

All screening mammograms at Mass General Imaging use breast tomosynthesis, which takes multiple images of the entire breast. It is performed with conventional digital mammography using the same scanner.

Computer Aided Detection (CAD) can be applied to mammography exams to help radiologists identify and mark regions of interest that are potentially indicative of cancer. Mass General Imaging utilizes CAD in all of its mammography locations.

Screening mammogram vs. diagnostic mammogram

A screening mammogram is an exam used to detect early breast cancer in women experiencing no symptoms. Mammography plays a central part in early detection of breast cancers because it can show changes in the breast up to two years before you or your physician can feel them. Screening mammography can begin at age 40, but some women at high risk of breast cancer may need to start earlier. Talk to your doctor about your risk for breast cancer and when you should get screened.

Diagnostic mammography is used to evaluate a patient with abnormal clinical findings, such as a breast lump or lumps that have been found by the woman or her doctor. Diagnostic mammography may also be done after an abnormal screening mammogram in order to determine the cause of the area of concern on the screening exam.

Safety and mammograms

Patient safety is our top priority. We pay special attention to using the lowest radiation dose during an exam to produce the best images for evaluation. As part of this commitment, we invest in the latest equipment so that our fleet of scanners consistently delivers the lowest possible dose of radiation.

Our state-of-the-art systems have tightly controlled X-ray beams with significant filtration and dose control methods to minimize radiation and ensure that the parts of a patient's body not being imaged receive minimal radiation exposure.

Although no radiation reaches the uterus during a mammogram, we prefer not to perform routine mammograms on women who might be pregnant. If you are coming in because of a breast problem and you are or may be pregnant, please notify the mammographer so that we can decide the best way to evaluate your situation.

All Mass General facilities for mammography are licensed and accredited by the American College of Radiology, the FDA and the Radiation Control Program of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

What to Expect

mammogram image

What should I expect BEFORE my mammogram?

  • Discussion: Prior to your mammogram, discuss any new findings, prior surgeries, hormone use, and family or personal history of breast cancer with your doctor.
  • What to wear: On the day of the exam, do not use deodorants, antiperspirants, powders, or ointments since these can show up and be confusing on the mammogram. Since you will need to undress from the waist up, a two-piece outfit is recommended.
  • What to bring: Please bring your current insurance card. If possible, please also obtain prior mammograms and make them available to the radiologist at the time of the current exam. You will be asked a number of important questions about your medical history so that we can assess your breast cancer risk.

What will I experience DURING my mammogram?

  • Preparation: You will be asked to remove your clothing from the waist up and will be given a gown. You will be escorted into the mammography room.

    The mammographer who performs your exam is a highly trained individual who is board certified in breast imaging studies. She can answer most of your questions, but if she cannot, then she can ask one of the radiologists who specialize in mammography.

    If you have not had a mammogram before, the mammographer will explain the procedure. If you have any scars on your breasts, breast implants or skin irritations, particularly underneath your breast in the fold where the breast attaches to the chest, please point them out to the mammographer.

 

  • Breast compression: It is very important that you work with the mammographer to ensure that your breast is as far into the machine as possible so that the tissues deep in the breast can be examined.

    Your breast will be placed on a special platform and gradually compressed with a paddle (often made of clear Plexiglas or other plastic).

    You will feel pressure on your breast as it is squeezed by the compressor. Some women with sensitive breasts may experience discomfort. If this is the case, schedule the procedure when your breasts are least tender. Be sure to inform the mammographer if pain occurs as compression is increased. If discomfort is significant, less compression will be used.

    Breast compression is necessary in order to:
    • Even out the breast thickness so that all of the tissue can be visualized.
    • Spread out the tissue so that small abnormalities won't be obscured by overlying breast tissue.
    • Allow the use of a lower X-ray dose because a thinner amount of breast tissue is being imaged.
    • Hold the breast still in order to eliminate blurring of the image caused by motion.
    • Reduce X-ray scatter to increase sharpness of picture.
  • Scanning: You will be asked to change positions slightly between images. Routine views are a top-to-bottom view and an oblique side view. The process will be repeated for the other breast. The mammographer will walk behind a wall or into the next room to activate the X-ray machine. The X-ray beam will remain on for a few seconds at most. You may hear a whining noise that persists even after the X-ray is turned off. This is just a mechanical part of the tube that spins at high speed and does not stop immediately even though no more X-rays are being produced.
  • Length of exam: Your mammogram should take about 30 minutes.

What should I expect AFTER my mammogram?

  • Instructions: When the examination is complete, you will be asked to wait until the mammographer determines that the images are of high enough quality for the radiologist to read. 
  • Exam results: All mammograms are read by Mass General radiologists from the Division of Breast Imaging. Our team of specialized breast radiologists are board certified in general radiology and fellowship trained with additional specialization in breast imaging procedures.

    Rapid results are essential not only for your peace-of-mind but also for your physician to begin planning your treatment immediately, if necessary.

FAQ

 

What is a mammogram?
A mammogram is an X-ray performed by a trained professional called a mammographer or breast technologist who properly positions and compresses the breasts (crucial for high-quality images) and checks the images immediately for quality. It is performed both as a screening test and as a diagnostic exam.

What is the difference between a screening mammogram and a diagnostic mammogram?
A screening mammogram is an exam used to detect early breast cancer in women experiencing no symptoms. Mammography plays a central part in early detection of breast cancers because it can show changes in the breast up to two years before you or your physician can feel them. Current guidelines recommend screening mammography every year beginning at age 40. In addition, women who have had breast cancer and those who are at increased risk due to a genetic history of breast cancer should seek expert medical advice about whether they should begin screening before age 40 and about the frequency of screening.

Diagnostic mammography is used to evaluate a patient with abnormal clinical findings, such as a breast lump or lumps that have been found by the woman or her doctor. Diagnostic mammography may also be done after an abnormal screening mammogram in order to determine the cause of the area of concern on the screening exam.

When should I get a mammogram?
Talk to your doctor about your risk for breast cancer and when you should get screened. Mammograms can begin at age 40, but some women at high risk of breast cancer may need to start earlier.

What is breast tomosynthesis?
Breast tomosynthesis is a breakthrough in mammography that takes multiple images of the entire breast. Our specialized breast radiologists use it to pinpoint the size, shape and location of an abnormality, allowing them to see through layers of tissue. Research on breast tomosynthesis in large populations consistently shows improved cancer detection rates and a decrease in call backs.

Breast tomosynthesis plus digital mammography is standard for all mammograms to screen for breast cancer at Mass General. They are performed together on one scanner for a complete exam that takes minutes.

What is the difference between breast tomosynthesis and 3D mammography?
3D mammography is a commonly used term for breast tomosynthesis. They both refer to the same type of mammogram. Unlike conventional digital or 2D mammography, breast tomosynthesis takes multiple images from different angles of the entire breast. Advanced imaging technology reconstructs these images to form a more detailed view compared to 2D mammography. Together, these images resemble the pages of a book. Our breast radiologists can page through the images to see through layers of breast tissue.

What is a call back?
If our breast radiologists spot an area with the potential to be abnormal, we ask a patient to return for a diagnostic mammogram to get additional images. Many women are called back, and most receive a negative or benign result.

Breast tomosynthesis, which we use at Mass General, is associated with a decrease in call backs.

Do I need a referral to get a mammogram?
You do not need a referral from a doctor to schedule a screening mammogram, but a diagnostic mammogram typically requires one.

You can schedule a screening mammogram without a referral by contacting our locations or requesting an appointment online at massgeneralimaging.org/mymammo.

Request a mammogram at Mass General

Should I be concerned about having dense breast tissue?
Some women are concerned that dense breast tissue can obscure important information on a mammogram.

Breast tomosynthesis minimizes the effect of overlapping tissue by taking multiple images in an arc over the breast that our breast radiologists "page" though like a book to examine every area of the breast in detail. It is appropriate for breasts of various densities.

Talk to your doctor if you have any concerns about your breast health.

Should I be concerned about radiation with mammography?
The small amount of radiation for the type of mammogram we perform at Mass General is below the prescribed standards set by government regulators. The benefits of mammography outweigh any possible risk associated with radiation exposure.

What happens if a lump is found?
If our breast radiologists spot an abnormality like a lump, we ask a patient to return for a diagnostic mammogram to get additional images. In these cases, results are communicated to the patient immediately and a multidisciplinary team of breast cancer specialists at Mass General coordinates next steps if needed.

 

Conditions & Diseases

  • Breast Cancer

    Breast cancer is a condition in which certain cells in the breast become abnormal and multiply without control to form a tumor.

  • Breast Cancer in Men

    Breast cancer in men is a rare condition in which certain cells in the breast become abnormal and multiply without control to form a tumor.

Patient Stories

Mammograms at Mass General: The Patient Experience

Patients who get mammograms at Mass General benefit from specialized radiologists, the latest technology and the support of a caring staff in the Breast Imaging Division of the Department of Radiology.

News

News and Information about Mammography

Keep updated with the latest news and information about mammograms and the breast imaging services offered by the Division of Breast Imaging in the Department of Radiology at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Multimedia

Mammograms at Mass General: Multimedia

Browse our multimedia library to learn more about mammography and breast tomosynthesis at Massachusetts General Hospital.

  • Images from a mammogram with breast tomosynthesis: A video

    See what our breast radiologists see when they "page" through these images like a book, examining every area of the breast in detail. The spider-like distortion indicated by the arrow is a type of breast cancer not visible on conventional digital mammography.

  • Breast Tomosynthesis: A video

    Pioneered at Mass General Imaging, breast tomosynthesis (3D mammography) provides a clear view through overlapping layers of breast tissue in order to improve breast-cancer detection while reducing callbacks.

  • A Mass General breast cancer patient overcomes her challenges: A video

    Blind since birth, Lil had difficulty getting to medical appointments including annual mammograms. With help from a patient navigator, she learned to overcome the many challenges she faced with a breast cancer diagnosis.

Request a Mammogram

Call to request a mammogram 617-724-9729

What is breast tomosynthesis?

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