Diagnostic Tests

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Mammograms and Other Diagnostic Tests


Mammography uses low-dose X-rays to image the breast. Inova has invested in digital mammography to give you the most advanced technology available. Digital mammography uses a process similar to digital cameras. The clear, detailed images are processed quickly. They are also easy to view and to share with other clinicians who need to see your test results. All Inova facilities offer mammography services, and most offer digital mammography. 

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Watch our video on mammography at Inova

Breast ultrasound

Ultrasound uses high frequency sound waves to visualize breast cysts, solid nodules or lymph nodes. The resulting image is referred to as a sonogram. Breast ultrasound does not use X-rays. Learn more about breast ultrasound 

Breast magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)

Breast MRI uses a large magnet, radio waves and computers to create high quality images of the breast. Learn more about breast MRI 

Breast biopsy

Biopsy involves removing tissue from the breast for further evaluation. A physician requests a biopsy to obtain the most detailed and accurate information possible about your breast tissue. Having a biopsy does not mean you have breast cancer.

Needle biopsy

Most breast biopsies today are minimally-invasive procedures with a minimum of discomfort and recovery time. A special hollow needle is used to withdraw a small tissue sample from an abnormal mass or lump in the breast. The breast is first cleansed and then numbed with a local anesthetic. A specially trained clinician views live-time images of your breast on digital mammography or ultrasound equipment to precisely locate the lump or tissue to be biopsied. The tissue sample is drawn up into the needle and removed. No stitches are required.

The tissue sample is sent to a laboratory for testing. Ask your physician how soon the test results will be available to you.

Stereotactic breast biopsy

Stereotactic breast biopsy is another version of minimally invasive breast biopsy. It is an excellent choice for diagnosing suspicious areas identified by a mammogram that are not palpable with the fingertips. Stereotactic breast biopsy is available at Inova Alexandria Hospital, Inova Fair Oaks Hospital, Inova Loudoun Hospital, and Inova Mount Vernon Hospital.

Surgical biopsy

In some cases, a physician may need to perform a surgical biopsy with a local or general anesthetic. The physician makes an incision and removes the tumor or tissue from the breast that requires further study. Stitches and a longer recovery time may be needed.

Learn more about biopsy from our online health library:

Breast self-exam (BSE)

BSE is not a replacement for a mammogram and physician's exam, but regularly practiced self-exams allow a woman to become familiar with the texture of her breasts and make it easier to detect changes.
Learn more about breast self-exam 

A note on current mammogram recommendations

In late 2009, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force announced revised mammography guidelines that recommend against routine screening mammography in women aged 40 to 49. The guidelines suggest that women aged 50 to 74 have a mammogram every two years rather than every year. There have been other studies that also have questioned the effectiveness of mammograms.

The breast health experts at Inova Breast Care Institute continue to support the current American College of Radiology and American Cancer Society guidelines that recommend routine annual screening mammograms for women over the age of 40. Consult with your physician about your family history and specific situation.