Breast imaging is a subspecialty of radiology that involves a number of different imaging procedures. These include:
Mammograms are the best place to start for overall breast cancer screening. It is the most effective modality for decreasing mortality as a result of breast cancer. If required, breast ultrasounds, biopsies, and MRIs are performed after mammograms.
Breast ultrasounds are conducted if there are specific areas of concern – this may be a result of localised pain or an abnormality in a screening mammogram. An ultrasound-guided biopsy may also be conducted if a radiologist requires a sample of breast tissue for further examination.
While mammograms and breast ultrasounds are primarily concerned with the structure of breast tissue, breast MRIs allow radiologists to see how the breast tissue is behaving.
Breast MRIs are performed if patients have a higher lifetime risk of breast cancer, and is useful for detecting abnormalities in breast tissue that may occur before any visible structural change.
What is a mammogram?
A mammogram is a low-dose x-ray examination performed using a dedicated mammography x-ray unit. Mammograms are used to examine breast tissue and can detect breast cancer before you show any visible signs or symptoms of the disease.
Two types of mammograms are available: 2D and 3D mammograms. A 2D mammogram captures images in two dimensions, and two photos are usually taken of each breast – one from the side, and one from above. This may be appropriate for patients who have a larger lump or non-dense breast tissue.
A 3D mammogram, also known as digital breast tomosynthesis, captures a series of images through the breast, which a computer then combines to create a 3D image. This allows doctors to visualise the breast in greater detail.
3D mammography may provide clearer information about early invasive breast cancers than 2D mammography alone, and may also be more valuable for people with dense breast tissue or implants.
Can I get a mammogram if I have an implant?
It is still important to get a mammogram if you have an implant. Mammograms are generally safe for people with implants unless there is an existing issue with the implant.
To reduce the risk of leakage or rupture, a lower amount of compression is used when imaging patients with implants. Implants can obscure some breast tissue, but this is minimised by performing a 3D mammogram.
What is a breast ultrasound?
Not all breast cancers can be detected by mammography alone, so your referring doctor may request an ultrasound in conjunction with your mammogram. Ultrasounds use sound waves to produce images and are useful for detecting different types of lesions compared to mammograms.
As a breast ultrasound is a real-time examination, you may be able to indicate a lump’s location so it can be viewed immediately. A radiologist can then compare this to images taken by a mammogram. Ultrasounds are also used to assess lumps detected using mammography and do determine if they are solid or cystic.
What is a breast biopsy?
A breast MRI can be performed to produce detailed images of the breast(s) without using x-rays. To make abnormal tissue easier to detect, a contrast agent (gadolinium) may be used.
Breast MRIs are usually conducted to identify early cancer in people who are known to be in a high-risk category for breast cancer, to determine the extent of a cancer that has already been detected using other imaging methods, or to visualise an artificial breast implant.
How much will my scan cost?
Certain examinations, like mammograms, can be bulk billed. Your referring doctor will be aware of your specific requirements and circumstances and is best placed to advise whether you meet the appropriate Medicare criteria. When you make your appointment, we will provide you with information regarding bulk billing and any fees you may incur.
BreastScreen Australia provides free screening mammograms for women over the age of 40 every two years. These are performed at dedicated government breast screening clinics. If you choose to have this mammogram with us, an out-of-pocket fee will apply.
How will I get my results?
All images from your scan are digitally recorded. One of our subspecialty-trained radiologists interprets these images and provides a report to your referring doctor.
Your results can be obtained from your referring doctor after 24 hours. If the scan is medically urgent, your results will be available as soon as possible.
A copy of your images and report will also be available electronically through the patient app and web portal.