Within the field of radiology there are a number of subspecialties that dive into specific imaging techniques and diagnosis. When it comes to women’s imaging, the name may sound obvious, but chances are you don’t know everything that goes into this important subdivision of radiology. Below, we will discuss everything you need to know about women’s imaging including what it is, common women’s imaging procedures, and what diseases women’s imaging can diagnose.
Women’s imaging encompasses several radiology procedures specifically related to women and the diseases that are most prevalent to women such as breast cancer or gynecological issues.
Common Women’s Imaging Procedures
A mammogram is an X-ray picture of the breast. Doctors use mammograms to look for early signs of breast cancer. Regular mammograms are the best tests doctors have to find breast cancer early, sometimes up to three years before it can be felt. There are two types of mammograms—screening and diagnostic. Screening mammography is performed to detect unsuspected breast cancer. Diagnostic mammography is used to evaluate concerning areas in the breast seen during the screening exam, present with a palpable lump, are experiencing discharge from the nipple or patients who have shown previous signs or symptoms of breast cancer.
Breast ultrasounds help diagnose breast abnormalities detected by a physician during a physical exam, can be used to further examine potential abnormalities identified on a mammogram and used as an additional screening exam for women with dense breasts that could benefit from additional imaging. Ultrasound imaging helps to determine if an abnormality is a benign cyst or potentially a cancerous tumor. Breast ultrasounds use high frequency sound much like sonar to image the breast. In addition to its diagnostic benefits, ultrasound technology is also utilized to locate a target area for a biopsy of the breast.
A breast MRI is typically performed when your doctor needs more information than a mammogram, ultrasound, or a clinical breast exam can provide. In certain situations, such as when a woman has a very high risk of breast cancer, breast MRI may be used as a screening tool for detecting breast cancer. MRI of the breast is not a replacement for mammography or ultrasound imaging but rather an additional tool for identifying breast cancer and other breast abnormalities.
While patients with a lifetime risk calculation of 20% or higher are recommended for annual breast screening MRI exams, most payors still consider this exam to be “experimental” and will not cover the cost. Please check with your specific plan should you need a breast screening MRI.
Breast biopsies are typically done to determine whether a mass, lump, or abnormality is cancerous or benign by removing a tissue sample to send off to a lab for additional testing. These biopsies can often be guided using an imaging test, such as ultrasound-guided breast biopsy, MRI guided or Stereotactic biopsy.
When looking for an imaging center for your women’s imaging needs, it’s important to find one with a board-certified radiologist who has extensive training in women’s imaging. BICRAD has a number of radiologists who are specialized in women’s imaging. Schedule an appointment at a BICRAD location near you today!