What Is Mammography? - Definition & History

Instructor: Virginia Rawls

Virginia has a master' degree in Education and a bachelors in Sports Medicine/athletic Training

Ever wonder what a mammogram machine does and who would think to invent it? If so, you came to the right place. This article details what mammography is and the history behind this great advancement for breast health.

Mammography Defined

It is pretty much common knowledge that an x-ray is taken to see if you have a broken bone. This same type of technology can be used to detect tumors in breast tissue. Mammography is a radiographic technique that uses x-rays to visualize breast tissue and highlight abnormalities.

Mammography is one of the best tests that can be done to help identify early stages of breast cancer and other diseases of the breast. If a patient or doctor can feel a lump in the breast, these pictures can help them to find out exactly what the lump is. The images can also help to show doctors very small tumors or defects before they become a problem for the patient.

The History of Mammography

It wouldn't be right to talk about mammography without talking about the invention of the x-ray. W.C. Roentgen was a German physicist who was credited with inventing the first x-ray in 1895. In fact, his first x-ray was of his wife's hand.

By 1896, his invention spread all over the world and made its way into the United States. It was immediately used in hospitals to help see broken bones and wounds that might have contained pieces of metal, like gunshots and stabbings.

In 1913, a German surgeon, Albert Solomon, began x-raying breast tissue specimens from mastectomy surgeries. He looked at the specimens from the surgeries and compared them to healthy breast tissue x-rays. He was able to see white, dense masses in the unhealthy tissue. We now know these masses to be called micro-calcifications and tumors. Micro-calcifications are tiny spots where calcium deposits build up in the body. Tumors are an abnormal grouping of tissues, which can be cancerous and non-cancerous.

In the 1930's-1940's, more precise advancements were made to help in the detection of tumors. Groundwork for procedures and protocols in the field of mammography were also developed.

It wasn't until 1956, however, when a radiologist from Houston, Robert Egan, was able to produce detailed images of breast tissues on live patients through a new technique. His technique used special films that were specific to taking images of breast tissue. This technique paved the way for a clearer, more precise picture of breast tissue. During this time, Egan also began convincing surgeons to do mammograms on patients before they performed mastectomies.

The first compression mammography machine was invented in 1966. Pressing down on the breast tissue, doctors were able to see micro-calcifications and tumors better. By the 1970's, mammography machines were being manufactured and patients were having mammograms in clinics and hospitals around the USA.

In 1976, the American Cancer Society put out their recommendation that mammograms should be used as a screening tool for breast cancer. And in 1992, Congress enacted the Mammography Quality Standards Act. With this act, all women have access to mammography for the purpose of cancer screenings and detection.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Study.com Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use Study.com

Become a Study.com member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about Study.com
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? Study.com has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create an account