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 Screening Versus Diagnostic Mammogram

Woman’s Hospital is the Baton Rouge area’s leader for breast imaging and mammography services. As such, we offer both screening and diagnostic mammography services based on the individual needs of each woman.

Screening mammograms vs. diagnostic mammograms

A screening mammogram is used to check for breast cancer in women who have no signs or symptoms of the disease. Screening mammograms usually involve two X-ray pictures, or images, of each breast. The X-ray images make it possible to detect tumors that cannot be felt.

A diagnostic mammogram can be used to check for breast cancer after a lump or other sign or symptom of the disease has been found. Besides a lump, signs of breast cancer can include breast pain, thickening of the skin of the breast, nipple discharge or a change in breast size or shape; however, these signs may also be signs of benign conditions. A diagnostic mammogram can also be used to evaluate changes found during a screening mammogram or to view breast tissue when it is difficult to obtain a screening mammogram because of special circumstances, such as the presence of breast implants.

How are screening and diagnostic mammograms different?

Diagnostic mammography takes longer than screening mammography because more X-rays are needed to obtain views of the breast from several angles. The technician may magnify a suspicious area to produce a detailed picture that can help the doctor make an accurate diagnosis.

What are the costs associated with a screening or diagnostic mammogram?

Medicare, Medicaid and all private health insurance policies created after March 23, 2010, cover screening mammogram costs. Most states also have laws that require health insurance companies to pay for all or at least part of the costs of screening mammograms. You typically pay more for diagnostic mammograms than screening ones, and the insurance coverage may be different.

When should a woman get a screening mammogram?

Woman’s encourages women over the age of 40 to receive a screening mammogram every year even if no signs of breast cancer were detected in their previous exam. Women who are at higher than average risk of breast cancer (for example, because of a family history of the disease or because they carry either the BRCA1 or the BRCA2 gene) should talk with their doctors about whether to have mammograms before age 40 and how often to have them.