Breast Imaging & Mammography

What is Breast Imaging?

Breast imaging is used to look for abnormalities or changes within the breast. These changes may be life threatening, and may cause no symptoms.

Diagnosing breast cancer early is very important for survival. Mammography is the only way to detect early stage breast cancer, when it is most treatable.

In certain instances, breast ultrasound and breast MRI are used in addition to mammography (see more details below). These tests may be used separately or together, depending on what is being evaluated.

The CHA Breast Imaging Center offers the latest imaging technology to detect early breast cancer. Our technologists, radiologists, and staff want to make your experience as comfortable and easy as possible.

What is Mammography?

Digital mammograms are performed using low radiation x-rays that create an image of the tissues inside the breast. They are used to spot lumps, tumors, and other cancerous and non-cancerous abnormalities that are too small to be found by feeling them. There are two basic types of mammograms:

  • Screening Mammograms. This is a routine test to look at breast tissue. It is used to look for changes in breast tissue in women with no signs of breast cancer. Your first exam will be the "baseline" mammogram that will be used to compare the results in future years to see changes. The results of your screening mammogram will be sent to you by mail within 30 days and will also be sent to your doctor.

    If something is seen, you will be called within 5 days. The doctor may order extra mammographic pictures and/or ultrasound.

  • Diagnostic Mammograms. If your doctor wants to check a lump that was found by you or when you were examined or if you have symptoms that could show something changing in your breast, he or she will send you for a diagnostic mammogram. Diagnostic mammograms can take a little longer than a screening mammogram and you might also need an ultrasound. You will have the results of your diagnostic mammogram before leaving the department.

    If something is seen,on your diagnostic mammogram the doctor may order an ultrasound or MRI or may request a biopsy.

What is 3D Mammography / Tomosynthesis?

Tomosynthesis: Digital breast tomosynthesis, or 3D Mammography, is the latest technology in mammography. It is a type of mammogram and is performed the same way as a standard mammogram. While standard mammograms produce a single image of the breast tissues, tomosynthesis provides multiple images through the breast tissues making it easier to see lumps or anything unusual within the breast.

At Cambridge Health Alliance, we use tomosynthesis in both screening and diagnostic mammography to ensure the highest quality images.

What is it like to have a mammogram or tomosynthesis exam?

When you arrive for your appointment, you will be shown a private changing room and will be asked to remove your clothing from the waist up and put on a gown. You will be brought to a separate waiting area and taken in to the mammography room.

The appointment takes less than 30 minutes. When you come into the room, the technologist, who is a woman, will help you stand in the right position and set the machine. All of our technologists are specialty trained and certified in mammography.

She will place your breast on the mammography machine, and use a clear plastic plate to keep it in place. This may be uncomfortable, but is generally not painful and only takes a few minutes. She will need to take a couple of different images, one from above and one from the side and will move the machine to get the pictures she needs. She may need to move you as well.

If you have any questions, you can ask the technologist. She will be happy to answer them and to try to make you as comfortable as possible.

How do I prepare?

You will need to give your doctor and the technologist information about your medical history and any family members who have had breast problems. You will be asked about past problems with your breasts, surgeries you have had, if you have breast implants, if you have had hormone therapy, or if you have been pregnant and nursed a baby.

If possible, you should schedule your test for the week after your period, and not just before or during your period, since your breasts may be tender.

The day of the test, don't put perfume, powder, or deodorant on your underarms or breasts. You may want to bring deodorant with you to put on after the test. You will be asked to remove jewelry around your neck, so you may want to leave it at home.

If you had your prior mammograms at another imaging center, please bring in those images and reports on a CD because it is very important for your radiologist to compare your current mammogram to your old one. If you cannot bring the images with you, you will have to sign a release form when you come in so that we can request those images. Your radiologist will have to wait to read your exam until we get the old images, which can take up to 2 weeks.

What is Breast Ultrasound Imaging (ultrasonography)?

Ultrasonography is the technique of using sound waves to create an image of part of the body without the use of radiation. Ultrasound is used to further evaluate abnormalities seen on the mammogram or abnormal clinical breast exam. It can differentiate a solid mass from a cyst. Ultrasound is also used to provide guidance for biopsies and other interventions.

Preparation For Your Exam: There is no preparation for a breast ultrasound exam.During the exam, you lie on a stretcher and a small amount of gel is placed on the part of the breast to be examined. A small device called a "transducer" is then used to carefully examine the area. Several images are usually taken to document the findings. When the technologist has finished the examination, the images are shown to the radiologist who may also perform a brief ultrasound scan to confirm the findings. The exam takes approximately half an hour.

After the exam you will be informed of the results of your mammogram by the radiologist and/or your physician.

What is Breast MRI?

Breast Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) utilizes a magnetic field and radio waves to create images of the body or specific parts of it. Breast MRI is not a substitute for mammography, and your primary care provider can help determine if breast MRI may be appropriate for you.

What Special Procedures may be Performed in Breast Imaging?

  • Biopsy - A biopsy is currently the only way to achieve an accurate diagnosis. A percutaneous (through the skin) biopsy uses a needle to remove cells (Fine needle aspiration) or pieces of tissue (Core biopsy). Approximately 1 million breast biopsies are performed every year; 80% of them are benign.
  • Stereotactic Breast Biopsy - Stereotactic breast biopsy is a procedure that uses mammography to assist in removing suspicious calcifications or tissue from your breast. The entire procedure is done through a small cut in the skin.
  • MR-Guided Breast Biopsy - Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) uses magnetic fields to evaluate breast tissue. Certain tissue characteristics that are not easily seen on ultrasound or mammography can be detected by MRI. The radiologist uses MR images to locate suspicious regions of breast tissue and visually assist in taking samples.
  • Ultrasound-Guided Breast Aspiration and Core Biopsy - Ultrasound-guided core breast biopsy and cyst aspiration are procedures that use sound waves (ultrasound) to assist in removing tissue from your breast or fluid from a cyst in your breast.
  • Needle localization – A needle localization involves placing a wire into the area of a breast that needs to be removed surgically to help guide the surgeon. It is often done on the day of breast surgery, prior to going to the operating room.

RadiologyInfo websiteImportant note: If you have had mammograms at an institution outside of Cambridge Health Alliance, you should try to arrange to bring those films with you at the time of your appointment. Comparison to prior studies is extremely helpful in allowing the radiologist to detect any changes in your mammogram.

For more information about when to have a mammogram, please visit “End the Confusion”, created by the Society of Breast Imaging.

    Contact Us

  • CHA Breast Center, Cambridge Hospital

    1493 Cambridge St. Cambridge, MA 02139
    P: 617-665-2001


    M - F: 8:30 am - 5 pm

  • CHA Cambridge Hospital

    1493 Cambridge St. Cambridge, MA 02139

    M / Th. / F: 8 am - 4:30 pm
    T - W: 8 am - 7 pm

  • CHA Everett Hospital

    96 Garland St. Everett, MA 02149

    M / W / F: 8 am - 4 pm
    T / Th.: 9 am - 7 pm

    Schedule an Appointment
    (617) 665-1298