The Difference Between a Screening Mammogram and Diagnostic Mammogram

The Breast Center, Bentonville

The Breast Center recommends that women start annual screening mammograms at age 40 and continue annually until their health is declining. Screening mammograms are an important tool in finding breast cancer in its early stages.  When cancers are found early the treatment is more likely to be successful: 96% of women who are treated for early stage breast cancer are disease-free 5 years after being diagnosed with cancer. Diagnostic mammograms are performed any time there is a problem in the breast.  Here’s more on the difference between a screening mammogram and diagnostic mammogram.

What is a screening mammogram?

A screening mammogram is a low dose x-ray of the breast that is done on a regular schedule to detect breast cancer. Screening mammograms are performed before there are any signs or symptoms of cancer. Mammography can detect cancer that is too small for a doctor or nurse to identify during a physical examination.

The sooner cancer is found and treated, the better your chances of overcoming the disease. Regular mammograms decrease your risk of dying from breast cancer, which is why the Breast Center encourages all women age 40 or older to schedule a screening mammogram every year.

What is a diagnostic mammogram?

Where screening mammograms are intended to detect cancer in a patient who doesn’t exhibit any symptoms, diagnostic mammograms are used to further learn about an abnormality that has been found in the breast.The key difference between the two is that diagnostic mammograms focus on a problem that has already been identified.

Suspicious screening results or things such as nipple discharge, lumps, or breast pain may be cause for a diagnostic mammogram. Diagnostic mammograms can determine whether these symptoms are suspicious for breast cancer or due to another benign issue. 

Diagnostic mammograms typically take longer than screening mammograms. At The Breast Center, the patient should expect to be at a diagnostic appointment for at least an hour and will leave the appointment with a verbal report on the results. The radiologist will convey the findings to the patient at the appointment and the patient will leave The Breast Center with a plan for follow up.   Follow up may include return to annual screening for normal findings, or for suspicious areas, the recommendations could include follow up exam in 6 to 12 months, biopsy, MRI or surgical consultation.

Mammograms at the Breast Center

The Breast Center offers both screening mammograms and diagnostic mammograms. Existing patients can request an appointment through the Breast Center patient portal. New patients should call (479) 422-6266.