Mammograms & Breast Exams

It is estimated that nearly one in every eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime. Fortunately, the American Cancer Society reports that breast cancer deaths are declining, most likely due to early detection and improved treatment. Routine care for women of all ages is vital to keeping you and your breasts healthy and should include annual mammograms with clinical breast exams, in addition to regular self-examinations.

What is Mammography?

Mammography is an x-ray examination of the breast. It is used to detect and diagnose breast disease in women who have breast symptoms such as a lump, pain, or for women who have no breast complaints. The procedure allows detection of breast cancers, benign tumors, and cysts before they can be detected by palpation (touch).

University of Utah Health Care Comprehensive Breast Care Center

The Comprehensive Breast Care Center provides services for people who have been diagnosed with breast cancer and other breast conditions or those concerned about their risk of developing the disease based on strong family history. Our services include diagnostic imaging, breast MRI, breast ultrasound, ultrasound guided breast biopsies, and stereotactic breast biopsies.

We offer imaging services at several locations.


What is a mammogram?

A mammogram is an X-ray of the breast. It is used to detect and diagnose breast disease in women who have breast problems, like a lump, pain, or nipple discharge, as well as for women who have no breast complaints.

Mammography cannot prove that an abnormal area is cancer, but if it raises a suspicion of cancer, tissue will be removed for a biopsy. Tissue may be removed by needle or open surgical biopsy and examined under a microscope to determine if it is cancer.

Mammography has been used for about 40 years, and in the past 15 years technical advancements have greatly improved both the technique and results. Today, dedicated equipment, used only for breast X-rays, produces studies that are high in quality but low in radiation dose. Radiation risks are considered to be slight.

What are the different types of mammograms?

According to the National Cancer Institute, the different types of mammograms are: 

  • Screening mammogram. A screening mammogram is an X-ray of the breast used to detect breast changes in women who have no signs of breast cancer. It usually involves 2 X-rays of each breast. Using a mammogram, it is possible to detect a tumor that cannot be felt.

  • Diagnostic mammogram. A diagnostic mammogram is an X-ray of the breast used to diagnose unusual breast changes, like a lump, pain, nipple thickening or discharge, or a change in breast size or shape. More pictures are taken than during a screening mammogram.

    A diagnostic mammogram is also used to evaluate abnormalities detected on a screening mammogram. It is a basic medical tool and is appropriate in the workup of breast changes, regardless of a woman's age.

The development of digital mammography provides electronic images of the breasts. These images can be enhanced by computer technology, stored on computers. They can even be transmitted electronically in situations where remote access to the mammogram is needed.

How is mammography performed?

X-rays of the breast are different from those used for other parts of the body. The breast X-ray does not penetrate tissue as easily as the X-ray used for routine X-rays of other parts of the body. The breast is compressed by the mammogram equipment to spread the tissue apart. This allows for a lower dose of radiation. Compression of the breast may cause temporary discomfort, but the compression is necessary to produce a good mammogram. The compression only lasts for a few seconds for each image of the breast. A breast health nurse or X-ray technologist usually takes the X-rays. The resulting films are read and interpreted by a radiologist, who reports the results to your healthcare provider.

What conditions does a mammogram show?

  • Calcifications. These are tiny mineral deposits within the breast tissue. There are 2 categories of calcifications:

    • Macrocalcifications. Coarse calcium deposits that usually indicate degenerative changes in the breasts, like:

      • Aging of the breast arteries

      • Old injuries

      • Inflammations

    • Microcalcifications. These are tiny (less than 1/50 of an inch) specks of calcium. When many microcalcifications are seen in 1 area, they are referred to as a cluster.

  • Masses. These may happen with or without associated calcifications, and may be due to different causes, including:

    • Cyst. A noncancerous collection of fluid in the breast. It cannot be diagnosed by physical exam alone or by mammography alone. Either breast ultrasound or aspiration with a needle is required. If a mass is not a cyst, then further imaging may be needed.

    • Benign breast conditions. Masses can be monitored with periodic mammography, but others may need immediate or delayed biopsy.

    • Breast cancer

Who should get a screening mammogram?

The following screening guidelines are for early detection of cancer in women who have no symptoms:

  • Experts have different recommendations for mammography. Currently, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends screening every 2 years for women ages 50 to 74. The American Cancer Society (ACS) recommends yearly screening for all women ages 40 and older. Women should talk with their healthcare providers about their personal risk factors before making a decision about when to start getting mammograms or how often they should get them.

  • The ACS recommends clinical breast exams (CBEs) at least every 3 years for all women in their 20s and 30s. The ACS recommends annual CBEs for women ages 40 and older. The USPSTF, however, believes there is not enough evidence to assess the value of CBEs for women ages 40 and older. Women should talk with their healthcare providers about their personal risk factors and make a decision about whether they should have a CBE.

  • The USPSTF does not recommend breast self-exams (BSEs) because evidence suggests BSEs do not lower risk for death from breast cancer. The ACS says BSEs are a choice for women 20 and older as a means of familiarizing themselves with their breasts so they can notice changes more easily. Talking with your healthcare provider about the benefits and limitations can help you decide if you should start performing BSEs.

  • Women who are at an increased risk (family history, genetic tendency, past breast cancer) should talk with their healthcare providers about the benefits and limitations of starting mammography screening earlier, having additional tests (like a breast ultrasound or MRI along with their mammograms), or having exams more often.

Talk to your healthcare provider about your personal breast cancer risk and the screening guidelines that are best for you.

Matthew B. Morgan, M.D., M.S.

Matthew Morgan, MD, MS, is a board-certified radiologist specializing in breast imaging. His focus is the early detection of breast cancer through mammography, ultrasound, and MRI in both average and high-risk women. Dr. Morgan has extensive experience in advanced imaging technques including 3D mammography (tomosynthesis) and MRI. His research i... Read More

Maryam Rezvani, M.D.

Dr. Rezvani is a board certified radiologist by the American Board of Radiology. She is fellowship trained in Body Imaging and Cardiac Imaging.... Read More

Matthew A. Stein, M.D.

Matthew A. Stein, MD is the section chief of Breast Imaging at the department of Radiology at the University of Utah. Dr. Stein has special interest in the use of breast MRI for screening women at high risk of breast cancer, as well as using MRI and MRI directed biopsy to accurately assess extent of disease in those with proven breast cancer, and ... Read More

Nicole Winkler, M.D.

Nicole Winkler, MD, is a radiologist specializing in breast and abdominopelvic imaging. Her main focus is breast imaging including the detection of breast cancer through mammography, ultrasound and MRI and diagnosis through image directed biopsy. Dr. Winkler has a specific interest in providing compassionate, accurate and efficient patient care thr... Read More

Huntsman Cancer Hospital Breast Care Center

8:00 am–4:00 pm, Mon–Fri

1950 Circle of Hope
Salt Lake City, UT 84132
Scheduling: (801)581-5496

Greenwood Health Center

8:40 am–4:00 pm, Mon–Fri

7495 South State Street
Midvale, UT 84047
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Parkway Health Center

8:30 am–4:30 pm, Mon–Fri

145 W. University Parkway
Orem, UT 84058
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Redstone Health Center

9:00 am–4:40 pm, Mon–Thur

1743 W. Redstone Center Dr.
Park City, UT 84098
Scheduling: (801)581-5496

South Jordan Health Center

8:00 am–4:30 pm, M & W

5126 W. Daybreak Parkway
South Jordan, UT 84095

Scheduling: (801)581-5496
Fax: (801)585-9220