Breast compression in mammography: how much is enough?

Australas Radiol. 2003 Jun;47(2):121-6. doi: 10.1046/j.0004-8461.2003.01139.x.


The amount of breast compression that is applied during mammography potentially influences image quality and the discomfort experienced. The aim of this study was to determine the relationship between applied compression force, breast thickness, reported discomfort and image quality. Participants were women attending routine breast screening by mammography at BreastScreen New South Wales Central and Eastern Sydney. During the mammographic procedure, an 'extra' craniocaudal (CC) film was taken at a reduced level of compression ranging from 10 to 30 Newtons. Breast thickness measurements were recorded for both the normal and the extra CC film. Details of discomfort experienced, cup size, menstrual status, existing breast pain and breast problems were also recorded. Radiologists were asked to compare the image quality of the normal and manipulated film. The results indicated that 24% of women did not experience a difference in thickness when the compression was reduced. This is an important new finding because the aim of breast compression is to reduce breast thickness. If breast thickness is not reduced when compression force is applied then discomfort is increased with no benefit in image quality. This has implications for mammographic practice when determining how much breast compression is sufficient. Radiologists found a decrease in contrast resolution within the fatty area of the breast between the normal and the extra CC film, confirming a decrease in image quality due to insufficient applied compression force.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Breast / anatomy & histology*
  • Breast Neoplasms / diagnostic imaging*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Image Enhancement
  • Mammography / adverse effects
  • Mammography / methods
  • Mammography / standards*
  • Middle Aged
  • Pain / etiology
  • Pain Measurement
  • Pressure