Getting a Mammogram With Breast Implants


Jill Daniels, Freelance Medical Writer

Jill Daniels is a freelance health writer based in New York City. She spent several years writing for WebMD, including their Weight Loss Clinic and Fertility Center programs. Jill has also written/reported for publications including InStyle, People and Women's Own. She received a degree in journalism for Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.

March 25 2008

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Having a diagnostic mammogram is important for all women of a certain age. But for women who have had breast augmentation, the process of getting a mammogram with breast implants will be quite different. To ensure you receive the most accurate assessment of your breast health, there are several things you should know.

First, breast implants can make it more difficult to detect breast cancer on a mammogram because the implants can hide some breast tissue and block the image of a tumor. Because of this, standard techniques used in mammography for compression of the breast and imaging are not effective for women with breast implants. More views of your breasts must be taken to ensure optimal examination of breast tissue. In addition, the technician must take extra care to minimize the risk of rupturing your implant.

However, despite this, studies show that mammograms are still an effective way to screen women with breast implants for breast cancer, and breast cancer screening guidelines are the same for women with and without breast implants. The American Cancer Society recommends that a woman receive a yearly mammogram starting at age 40 and for the rest of her life.

Tips for Getting a Mammogram If You Have Breast Implants
Whether you have saline breast implants or silicone breast implants, your mammogram with breast implants can be very successful. However, there are certain things you should keep in mind and certain steps you should take to have the best experience possible:

  • Find a mammography facility that has experience dealing with women who have breast implants. You will benefit both from a technician who has experience conducting diagnostic mammograms on women with breast implants and from a radiologist who has experienced reading the sometimes-tricky images that breast implants can produce.
  • When you schedule your appointment, inform the facility that you have implants so the staff can allot more time to perform additional imaging of the breast tissue and can have the appropriate staff working with you.
  • Request implant displacement views of your breasts if they are not already being taken, as this involves moving the implant out of the image to get a better view of the breast tissue.

The Good News About Mammograms With Breast Implants
Even though mammograms may be more difficult to perform and read for women with breast implants, they are still considered very effective in detecting cancer.

  • Implants have not been shown to increase breast cancer risk, and although mammography does not detect cancer as well in women with implants, this doesn't appear to result in more advanced cancers at diagnosis. Research shows that both women with and without implants were diagnosed with cancers of a similar size and stage.
  • Research has also shown that mammography results don't reveal any more false positives for women with breast implants than for women without breast implants.

The Not-So-Good News About Mammograms With Breast Implants

  • Mammograms performed on women with breast implants will miss more tumors than on women without breast implants. Research shows that more than 50% of tumors will be missed on women who have implants.
  • Getting a diagnostic mammogram with breast implants will likely take longer, may cost you more, and could expose you to more radiation because of the extra images that need to be captured.
  • Capsular contracture, where excessive scar tissue forms around an implant and squeezes it, can be a problem for women with breast implants. Unfortunately, this situation can make mammography more painful, less accurate, and sometimes impossible to perform. (In these cases other screening tools, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the breast implants may be a good option.)
  • There is a small chance that your implants will rupture during a mammogram. While this is not a common occurrence, it has been known to happen. You can take precautionary measures by working with a mammography technician who has experience with taking mammograms of breasts with implants.

Moving Beyond Mammograms
There are other screening tools, such as MRI and ultrasound, which may be helpful for women who have breast implants. These tools can be particularly valuable as second-line tests after mammography for cases when very little tissue can be included in the mammogram or when a suspicious area shows up on the mammogram.

MRI is also beneficial for women who are at high risk for breast cancer. In addition to cancer screening, MRIs can help detect silent leaks in silicone breast implants. MRIs of the breasts are recommended every few years for women who have silicone-filled breast implants. It's important to note, however, that at this time MRI is not considered better than mammography for detecting breast cancer, and due to its extreme sensitivity, MRI can create many false positives, where something looks suspicious but turns out to be normal tissue. It's important to talk to your doctor about the best screening option for you.

The Bottom Line
All women, whether they have breast implants or not, should be diligent about getting mammograms and about conducting breast self-exams regularly to better understand the normal contours and texture of their breasts. If you experience any changes or detect any lumps, please make sure to contact your physician immediately.