Diagnostic Imaging

Northwestern Medicine uses leading-edge diagnostic techniques to provide patients with exceptional care.

Diagnostic imaging, such as mammography, ultrasound or MRI, is performed if there is a symptom, family history or concerning finding on a screening mammogram or other imaging. In addition, diagnostic imaging will be performed if you require follow-up from a previously identified, likely benign finding.

Diagnostic imaging captures additional images to pinpoint the exact size and location of a breast abnormality. It also provides further clarification about the nature of the finding. In many cases, diagnostic imaging will help indicate if the abnormality is benign (not cancer). However, if an abnormality is suspicious, additional breast imaging or a biopsy may be ordered. A biopsy is the only definitive way to determine whether an abnormality is breast cancer.

Patients who have had a lumpectomy for breast cancer will be seen in the diagnostic clinic at regular intervals for three years after surgery. Once imaging findings are stable for three years, you can return to annual screening.

Diagnostic imaging requires a physician's referral. However, if you had a referral for any breast imaging at Northwestern Medicine within the past two years, no referral is necessary.

Mammogram Call-Back Frequently Asked Questions

If you recently had a screening mammogram at Northwestern Medicine, you may get called back for more imaging.

Below are common questions and answers about what this means.

Getting called back after a screening mammogram is common, especially after a first mammogram.

You may get called back after a screening mammogram for a few reasons, including:

  • Your images show a change from your previous images.
  • We did not receive previous images, so we do not know what is normal for your breast.

No. Getting called back after a screening mammogram does not mean you have cancer. It just means we need to do more tests to get a closer look at an area identified by the radiologist.

Most of these findings are not serious. In fact, more than 90% of women called back for additional tests do not have cancer.

We will help you schedule any additional tests requested by your radiologist. The tests may include any of these:

  • A diagnostic mammogram, which involves taking more X-ray images of the breast
  • An ultrasound, which involves using a wand on the breast to create a picture of the tissue inside
  • An MRI, which is a scan that creates very clear images of the inside of your breasts

The appointment may take up to 3 hours. During the appointment, the radiologist will look at all of your images and determine if additional testing is necessary.

You will get your results of the diagnostic imaging and recommended next steps during the appointment. If a biopsy is recommended, it will likely be performed at a later date.