Diagnostic imaging refers to technologies that doctors use to look inside your body for clues about a medical condition. A variety of machines and techniques can create pictures of the structures and activities inside your body. The technology your doctor uses will depend on your symptoms and the part of your body being examined.
When imaging the breast, doctors almost always use mammography. The American Cancer Society recommends screening mammography annually for women over the age of 40. If the radiologist identifies an abnormality or area that requires closer study on a screening mammogram, or if your primary care physician identifies a lump or other concern during your clinical exam, you will usually need a diagnostic mammogram. It is important for both screening and diagnostic mammograms that the radiologist has access to any prior mammograms you may have had so he/she can evaluate breast changes over time.
Another imaging technique used is ultrasound. Ultrasound technology uses sound waves to create an image of the inside of your breast. Ultrasound is frequently used in combination with diagnostic mammography and gives the radiologist a better idea of the size and shape of a breast lump. It can also be used when performing a needle biopsy of the tissue or removing fluid (aspirating) a probable cyst.
In addition, breast MRI, is sometimes used to locate lesions that can not be seen with other imaging techniques, to evaluate the extent of disease, or to screen certain very high risk women.