Contrast-Enhanced Mammograms

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If you have dense breast tissue or a high breast cancer risk, you need accurate, fast screening. With contrast-enhanced mammograms (CEM), we can discover cancers before standard mammograms.

CEM can feel like getting a regular mammogram. You'll get X-rays and feel some pressure. What makes CEM different is that before the imaging, you get an injection. We give you contrast dye through an IV.

Contrast-Enhanced Mammograms at UVA Health

Our radiologists have a high level of special training in breast imaging. In fact, that's all they do. This focus makes us experts in recognizing cancer at the earliest stage possible. CEM also reduces the number of biopsies we perform on women who don't actually have cancer.

Our top-of-the-line CEM system offers the best possible image quality, which helps us spot cancer much quicker.

Types of CEM

At UVA, we offer two types of contrast-enhanced mammograms: screening and diagnostic. Both catch cancers standard mammograms might miss. But which type you need depends on your risk and your breast tissue.

Screening CEM

Standard mammograms are 30-40% less sensitive in women with dense breast tissue. This makes some cancers more difficult to see.

You qualify for a screening CEM in place of your annual breast cancer screening if you have:

  • Dense breast tissue
  • No current symptoms
  • An average risk for breast cancer

Diagnostic CEM

A diagnostic CEM screens women at high risk for breast cancer. We recommend this type if you have:

  • A breast problem or symptom
  • An abnormality detected on traditional mammography
  • Current breast cancer

We can also take CEM-guided biopsies of suspicious masses found during your mammogram. CEM-guided biopsies are faster, more convenient, and often more comfortable than traditional biopsies guided by MRI.

You can also participate in a clinical trial for CEM. Talk to your care team about joining the trial.

Getting a Contrast-Enhanced Mammogram

Before we take any X-rays, we'll give you an IV with an injection of iodine-based contrast.

The exam process takes about 15 minutes. You'll then stay for 30 minutes to make sure you don't have any allergic reactions.

What Kind of Radiation Exposure is There?

The radiation dose for CEM is higher than a standard mammogram. The dose still falls below the limits set by the FDA for screening mammography.

What if the Radiologist Sees Something Abnormal?

The radiologist may recommend more screening or a biopsy.

Ask Your Provider About CEM

When it comes to breast cancer, you want the screening that best fits your situation. Talk to your provider about whether a contrast-enhanced mammogram is right for you.