Difference Between Women's Imaging Exams

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At BICRAD, Women’s Imaging encompasses all areas of breast imaging, including breast mammography, breast ultrasound, breast MRI, and breast biopsy. These exams all serve a different purpose but admittedly, they can appear very similar to our patients.

We know that even routine examinations can bring up a lot of questions and we want to make sure you always receive the most accurate information when going into a women’s imaging exam. That is why we’d like to take the time to discuss the difference between these women’s imaging exams.

Mammography Screening

A breast mammography is an x-ray examination that takes two pictures of each breast to detect signs of cancer. Screening mammograms are generally performed routinely on asymptomatic women rather than on women who have presented signs or symptoms of cancer, or for women who have previously presented abnormalities.

Diagnostic Mammography

A breast diagnostic mammography is a more detailed x-ray examination performed on women who have presented signs or symptoms of cancer, or whose mammogram screening has detected abnormalities. Women who have previously been found with abnormalities, or who have cancer (or are going through cancer), are also given a diagnostic mammogram rather than a regular screening mammogram.

Breast Cancer Ultrasound

A breast ultrasound utilizes high-frequency sonar ultrasound technology to image a breast, often after a physical exam to identify whether a lump is solid or fluid-filled. This procedure helps determine whether the lump is cancerous. A breast ultrasound can also be done in combination with diagnostic mammography to better identify the characteristics of the abnormality.

Breast MRI

A breast MRI is an essential and commonly used exam in women’s imaging because it is able to provide more information than mammograms, ultrasounds, and physical exams. This exam is usually conducted on women with a high risk of breast cancer, women with breast implants, women with dense breasts that are more difficult to image, or for new cancer diagnosis to determine the amount, extent, and location of tumors.

Breast Biopsy

Breast biopsies are typically conducted to conclusively determine whether a mass, lump, or abnormality is cancerous or benign by removing a small cell sample for identification. These biopsies tend to be guided using an imaging test that allows doctors to pinpoint the location of the mass. Two forms of these biopsies are a stereotactic breast biopsy and an ultrasound-guided breast biopsy

A stereotactic breast biopsy uses mammography to locate the abnormality. For this biopsy, the patient is placed face-down on a table with the breast protruding through a hole in the table’s surface. In ultrasound-guided biopsies, patients are standing or reclining while a doctor uses a hand-held transducer to move across the breast while a probe retrieves the tissue sample.

Both are highly effective at identifying cancerous or noncancerous abnormalities, and are an important step in the early detection and treatment of breast cancer.


The difference between women’s imaging exams can sometimes be subtle, which is why it’s so important to ask questions about the type of women’s imaging exam you are about to undergo. If you’d like to get more information on women’s imaging, or on any of these imaging exams, please feel free to contact us. We’re more than happy to help!