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Diagnostic mammography is performed in symptomatic patients, that is patients who have signs or symptoms of breast cancer such as a palpable lump, nipple discharge, skin changes etc.
There are no absolute contraindications for diagnostic mammography.
Diagnostic mammography is rarely performed in women under 30 years, due to the density and radiation sensitivity of the breast tissue. Pregnancy and breastfeeding are also relative contraindications due to exposure to radiation. Radiation protection measures can be put in place to obtain mammograms on these patients. Lactating breasts are more sensitive to radiation, with regard to the likelihood of cancer being induced, compared with the breasts of women who are not breast feeding. However, this small risk must be balanced against the risk of missing the diagnosis of breast cancer as breast cancer does occur sometimes in pregnant and breastfeeding women.
The risk of getting breast cancer from diagnostic mammography is very low. Very occasionally bruising or splitting of the skin occurs. Implant rupture has been reported however the risk is very low.
The Health Protection Agency of the United Kingdom estimates the risk of an additional cancer in a life time from a single mammographic examination to be in the low risk range: 1 in 100 000 to 1 in 10 0001. This is the same risk of developing a cancer as that which arises from exposure to the natural background radiation accumulated from the normal environment in 1 year.
For women with a palpable lump, it is important to note that mammography does not detect all breast cancers, even when the cancer has caused a lump that can be felt. In such a circumstance, a normal mammogram does not mean that the lump can be ignored. In this situation, other diagnostic tests such as breast ultrasound, fine needle aspiration or vacuum assisted core biopsy may be necessary to find out the cause of the lump.
Page last modified on 18/8/2017.
RANZCR® is not aware that any person intends to act or rely upon the opinions, advices or information contained in this publication or of the manner in which it might be possible to do so. It issues no invitation to any person to act or rely upon such opinions, advices or information or any of them and it accepts no responsibility for any of them.
RANZCR® intends by this statement to exclude liability for any such opinions, advices or information. The content of this publication is not intended as a substitute for medical advice. It is designed to support, not replace, the relationship that exists between a patient and his/her doctor. Some of the tests and procedures included in this publication may not be available at all radiology providers.
RANZCR® recommends that any specific questions regarding any procedure be discussed with a person's family doctor or medical specialist. Whilst every effort is made to ensure the accuracy of the information contained in this publication, RANZCR®, its Board, officers and employees assume no responsibility for its content, use, or interpretation. Each person should rely on their own inquires before making decisions that touch their own interests.