How does Mammography Work?

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  • Written By: Florence J. Tipton
  • Edited By: John Allen
  • Last Modified Date: 13 September 2019
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Mammography is the use of an low-amplitude x-ray imaging device for examining the interior of the breasts. Producing an image known as a mammogram, this is one of the techniques used for breast cancer screening. A doctor may use one of two types of mammograms to screen for breast cancer. Digital mammography works by generating computerized images of the internal structure of the breast. In addition to digital mammography, computer-aided detection software is used to help identify lumps and abnormalities that physicians might miss.

During a mammography procedure, a machine exposes the patient to x-ray radiation to collect images of the inside of the body. These images can reveal the extent of an abnormality in the breasts. The radiation is low in dosage, but strong enough to penetrate the layers of skin and bones. These images may show dangers that a physical exam might not detect. This is usually the first line of medical procedures to diagnosis breast cancer.

Most patients undergo this type of screening when symptoms may indicate the presence of breast cancer. Through capturing pictures of the inside of a patient’s body, possible cancerous tumors might be detected. Not every abnormal shape or lump is an automatic diagnosis of breast cancer, however. Mammography typically produces images to make a further diagnosis. These cancer-screening devices are essential tools for distinguishing between a malignant — or cancerous — and benign — noncancerous — tumor in the breast.


The technology in a digital mammography procedure mirrors the technology used to take pictures with a digital camera. X-rays are captured on a digital receptor much in the same way light is capture in a digital camera. An image is produced that can be viewed on a computer screen and shared via any number of digital media.

A computer-aided detection device produces images through computer software. Generally, the purpose of this software is to detect abnormal shapes or lumps in the breast. If the software detects an abnormality, highlights of the affected areas may appear on the computer screen.

The patient is usually required to stand in front of the imaging device. A radiology technician places one breast onto the device, compressing it with paddles. While applying compression, the device captures different picture angles of the breast to get a full image. Some discomfort may occur because of the awkward position of the breast generally required to capture the right images.


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