Mammogram | Everything You Need to Know About Mammograms

Risks of mammography

Risks of mammography

All medical procedures carry some risks and mammography is no exception. The benefits of getting a mammogram usually outweigh the risks, but a brief discussion of the less desirable aspects of a mammography is needed to paint a complete picture.

Since a mammogram depends on using the electromagnetic radiation we call xrays, it is inevitable that some radiation exposure will occur. This is usually of a very low dose which shouldn’t cause any concern. To put this in perspective, the radiation that a woman is exposed to yearly from background environmental sources is more than that received during a mammogram. The main situation in which radiation exposure needs to be taken into account Is when examining a pregnant woman. The foetus is particularly sensitive to radiation, especially in early pregnancy. This is why women who are pregnant do not get regular screening mammograms but only diagnostic mammograms. Women with the well known genetic mutations BRCA1 or BRCA2 are also more at risk for genetic damage caused by the radiation.

As mentioned above, some factors may make the interpretation of a mammogram difficult, such as increased breast density or breast implants. This raises the possibility that the patient may be diagnosed with a lesion that isn’t actually there, which is called a false positive, or be told that there are no abnormal findings while in fact some lesions are present, which we call a false negative. Since younger women have more dense breasts, , they are more likely to receive an inaccurate diagnosis. This fact contributes to the controversy around the validity of recommending annual mammograms for women less than 50 years of age.

Along the same vein, some types of breast cancer may not show up on a mammogram. If some breast disease is causing symptoms but does not appear on the mammogram, additional radiological studies may be ordered.