Mammography produces mammograms — black-and-white images of your breast tissue. Most mammograms are digital images that appear on a computer screen. A radiologist interprets the images and sends a written report of the findings to your doctor.

The radiologist looks for evidence of cancer or noncancerous (benign) conditions that may require further testing, follow-up or treatment.

Possible findings include:

  • Calcium deposits (calcifications) in ducts and other tissues
  • Masses or lumps
  • Distorted tissues
  • Dense areas appearing in only one breast or one specific area on the mammogram
  • New dense area that has appeared since your last mammogram

Calcifications can be the result of cell secretions, cell debris, inflammation and trauma, among other causes. Tiny, irregular deposits called microcalcifications may be associated with cancer. Larger, coarser areas of calcification may be caused by aging or by a benign condition such as fibroadenoma, a common noncancerous tumor of the breast. Most breast calcifications are benign, but if calcifications appear worrisome, the radiologist might order additional diagnostic images with magnification.

Dense areas indicate tissue that is more glandular than fatty, which can make calcifications and masses more difficult to identify or differentiate from normal glandular tissue. Dense areas can also represent cancer. Distorted areas suggest tumors that may have invaded neighboring tissues.

If the radiologist notes areas of concern on your mammogram, further testing may include additional mammograms known as compression or magnification views, as well as ultrasound imaging or a procedure (biopsy) to remove a sample of breast tissue for laboratory testing. Some situations require the use of diagnostic magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) in areas where the current imaging with mammography or ultrasound is negative and it's not clear what's causing a breast change or abnormality.

Aug. 20, 2013