Screening and Diagnostic Mammograms: What Women Need to Know

When a woman turns 35, her primary care provider will tell her that it’s time for a mammogram. Not all screenings are exactly the same. There are two kinds of mammograms that have different purposes. It’s important to know which one your doctor has asked you to get. 

Screening mammograms are designed to detect abnormalities in breast tissue. These exams are done for women who have no breast symptoms or no changes in their breast exam. Most women receive a screening mammogram once at age 35 and annually after they turn 40.

Typically, a screening mammogram consists of two images of each breast. Once the images are obtained and checked for technical quality, the patient is done with the screening mammogram. A breast imaging radiologist will read the mammogram. Normal results are usually mailed to the patient in seven to 10 days.  

If the breast imaging specialist determines that a woman needs additional imaging, he or she will ask her to follow up with a diagnostic mammogram. The request for a follow-up diagnostic mammogram are relayed to the patient by telephone as soon as the radiologist reads the mammogram. A follow up appointment is scheduled at the time of the call.

Diagnostic mammograms occur when a provider has concerns about a woman’s breast. A doctor will refer a patient for a diagnostic mammogram if an abnormal area is found on a routine screening mammogram, if a lump is felt, or the patient is experiencing breast pain or nipple discharge. During a diagnostic mammogram, the images are reviewed by a breast imaging radiologist in real time. That way, if additional pictures are needed, they can be taken right away.

In some cases, special images known as spot views or magnification views are used to further evaluate a specific area a diagnostic mammogram. A breast ultrasound may be performed along with your mammogram to provide additional information to aid in the interpretation of your findings.

It’s important to know which kind of mammogram your doctor has asked you to get because not all screening locations are able to perform both kinds of mammogram. 

At South Shore Health, we offer screening mammography at:

Our diagnostic mammograms are offered at:

Since most women choose where they get their annual mammogram, it’s important to choose a facility that can provide the screening your doctor wants to ensure your health.


To learn more about mammography at South Shore Health, click here.