Mammography & Women's Health Services | MedStar Health
A radiology technician positions a female patient during a mammogram.

A mammogram is a special kind of X-ray designed specifically for the breast. Mammograms allow your doctor to more closely examine the breasts for changes in breast tissue. These tests can show small lumps or abnormalities that may not be detectable by means of a clinical or self-breast exam.

Mammography is the best screening tool that doctors have for finding breast cancer. Three types exist:

  • Screening mammograms are performed, typically once a year, for women who have no symptoms of breast cancer.

  • Diagnostic mammograms are performed when a woman has symptoms of breast cancer or a breast lump. This mammogram takes longer than screening mammograms because more pictures of the breast are taken.

  • Digital mammograms also use X-rays to produce detailed images of the breast. However, digital mammography is equipped with a digital receptor and a computer instead of a film cassette.

Preparing for a mammography

The only preparation a patient needs to engage in prior to a digital mammography is arriving on time and following technician instructions for breast placement in the mammography machine. Digital mammography does emit a small level of radiation, so patients who are pregnant or suspect they may be pregnant should discuss concerns with their doctor prior to the procedure.