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Q: What’s the difference between a screening mammogram and a diagnostic mammogram?

For most women over 40, getting a mammogram is an important tool to catch breast cancer early so it can be treated. This technology takes an X-ray of the breast to detect abnormalities. Screening mammograms are done every year or two to check both breasts for any changes or signs of cancer. A diagnostic mammogram is used to take a closer look at a lump or suspicious area.

Both types of mammograms are done with a mammography machine. With a screening mammogram, the technician will take images of both breasts from several angles. For a diagnostic mammogram, the technician will focus on getting detailed views of the problem area from multiple angles. They might use an additional spot compression plate to separate the area of concern and move normal breast tissue out of the way. Sometimes they will also take images of the other breast to compare. Either way, a diagnostic mammogram typically takes longer than a regular mammogram appointment, and you’ll usually get your results right away.

You can prepare for a mammogram by wearing a top and bra that are comfortable and easy to remove. Take off any necklaces and other jewelry that might get in the way. And don’t put on deodorant, antiperspirant, lotion, or talcum powder under your arms or in your chest area before the procedure. These can make it hard to get a clear image. The technician will give you a wipe to remove any products, just in case.

If you find mammograms uncomfortable, avoid having it done in the week before your period begins, when your breasts are often more tender. You can also take a mild pain reliever, like ibuprofen or Tylenol, before the test.

Maui Health now provides 3D mammography, a state-of-the-art system that offers high-resolution 3D breast images with a lower radiation dose and a faster, more comfortable scan. Call the Maui Memorial Medical Center Imaging Department at (808) 243-3012 to request an appointment, or learn more at