Mammogram Images, Descriptions, and Details

What Do Breast Masses Look Like on a Mammogram?

Normal Fatty Breast Tissue on a Mammogram

Normal Fatty Breast Tissue
Mammogram Details Normal Fatty Breast Tissue on a Mammogram. National Cancer Institute

What shows up on your mammogram, and what does it look like? See what benign and malignant masses look like on a mammogram. Mammograms help with early detection and screening for breast cancer. You can see areas of dark and light, which correspond to normal and dense breast tissue. Breast masses will appear light (whiter) because they are denser than other features in the breast. Images are of actual mammograms, courtesy of the National Cancer Institute.

Please note: Red arrows were added to help you see the part of the image that is being featured.

On this mammogram you can see dark areas that are normal fatty tissues; the lighter areas are denser tissue which contains ducts, lobes, and other features.

Normal Fatty Breast Tissue on Mammogram

This is a mammogram of a normal fatty breast, typical of older women. A mammogram image of abnormal lesions, benign lumps, or breast cancer is more accurate in non-dense breasts. Any diagnosis would require a biopsy to confirm the findings on the mammogram.

Mammograms work best on fatty breasts because they have fewer areas of density (lighter masses). Breast masses which usually cause concern are lighter than normal dense tissue. Young women, especially those who have not had children, usually have dense and rather firm breast tissue. Mammography equipment can be adjusted to image dense or fatty tissue, but are most accurate on fatty tissue.

Normal Dense Breast Tissue on a Mammogram

Normal Dense Breast Tissue
Mammogram Details Normal Dense Breast Tissue on a Mammogram. National Cancer Institute

On this mammogram image, dark areas are fatty tissue, light areas are denser tissue which contains ducts, lobes, and other findings. Lighter areas of a mammogram reveal breast tissue that may be glandular (part of the milk system) or breast masses.

Normal Dense Breast Tissue on Mammogram

Shown are 2 mammograms of normal dense breasts. A dense breast makes a mammographic image difficult to read when -- and if -- cancerous lesions are present. These images are typical of younger women's breasts.

Premenopausal women, especially women who have never been pregnant, may have dense breast tissue. These are normal dense breasts. Because fatty breasts are easier for a mammogram to see through, dense breast tissue can sometimes hide outlines of areas that need closer study. If a particular area needs a better image, an ultrasound is usually the next step.


Breast Calcifications on a Mammogram

Breast Calcifications on a Mammogram
Mammogram Details Breast Calcifications on a Mammogram. National Cancer Institute

In this mammogram, the dark areas are normal fatty breast tissue and the lighter areas are denser tissue. The whiter spots are calcifications, indicated by the red arrows.

Breast Calcifications on a Mammogram

The findings on this abnormal mammogram are not necessarily cancerous. Here you can see breast calcifications through ductal patterns. This patient would have a follow-up mammogram in three months for a comparison.

Microcalcifications are tiny bits of calcium that may show up in clusters or in patterns (like circles) and are associated with extra cell activity in breast tissue. Usually, the extra cell growth is not cancerous, but sometimes tight clusters of microcalcifications can indicate early breast cancer. Scattered microcalcifications are usually a sign of benign breast tissue.


Fibrocystic Breast Tissue on a Mammogram

Fibrocystic Breast Tissue
Mammogram Details Fibrocystic Breast Tissue on a Mammogram. National Cancer Institute

A mammogram will show dense and fatty areas of tissue. A cyst, fibroadenoma or a solid area (tumor) appears on a mammogram as a dense mass.

Fibrocystic Breast Tissue on a Mammogram

This mammogram shows thickened areas that are typical of fibrocystic changes. You can also see some ducts, by the patterns they form.

Normal fibrocystic changes in your breast can be affected by monthly hormonal fluctuations that may taper off in menopause. About half of all women experience fibrocystic changes in their breasts, especially during their fertile years.

Fibroadenomas and cysts are benign masses that can appear in fibrocystic breast tissue. These can appear alone, or in groups, and are common on mammograms. These are not the same as fibrocystic changes in the breast.

Fibrocystic changes in the breast is usually not a sign of disease and does not require treatment. It can cause breast pain and lumpiness, so if this becomes a problem, visit your doctor for help.

Breast Tumor on a Mammogram

Breast Cancer Tumor on Mammogram
Mammogram Details Breast Cancer Tumor on Mammogram. National Cancer Institute

This mammogram shows dark areas of normal fatty breast tissue. Lighter areas are dense breast tissue that includes ducts and lobes. The whitest area is the densest, indicating a tumor (breast cancer).

Breast Tumor on a Mammogram

Shown is a mammogram of a fatty breast with an obvious cancerous tumor, indicated by a red arrow in the lower right corner of the image.​

A cancerous tumor in the breast is composed of a mass of cancer cells that are growing in an abnormal, uncontrolled way. The tumor may invade surrounding tissue, or it may shed cells into the bloodstream or lymph system. If the tumor cells migrate beyond the original site and spread to other parts of the body, it is considered metastatic breast cancer.

A breast tumor requires treatment by surgery and may require chemotherapy, radiation, targeted biological therapy, and hormonal therapy. When a breast tumor is found at an early stage of breast cancer, it is more likely to be successfully treated, to prevent its spread or recurrence.

Breast Implant on a Mammogram

Mammogram With Implants
Mammogram Details Mammogram With Implants. Image © Pam Stephan

This mammogram shows two views of a reconstructed breast with a silicone breast implant. Mammograms taken after a diagnosis of breast cancer are important screening tests. There is no evidence of breast cancer in these images.

Breast Implant on a Mammogram

Shown is a mammogram taken after a left breast mastectomy and reconstruction with a breast implant. The original diagnosis of this patient was Invasive Ductal Carcinoma.

Mammograms can be performed on breast implants if less compression is used than what is required on natural breast tissue. In both views of this breast reconstruction, the implant appears as a light, smooth-sided area. This implant is inserted into a pocket of chest walls muscle. The chest wall muscle appears as the medium-dark areas just outside the implant.

Note that the cranial-caudal view (taken from overhead) shows a smaller area than the mediolateral view (taken on a diagonal). This clearly shows the benefit of two different views of the same breast. In the mediolateral view (on the right) axillary tissue, as well as chest wall muscle, can be seen.


Mammogram and MRI Breast Images Comparison

Mammogram and MRI Breast Images Comparison
Mammogram Details Mammogram and MRI Breast Images Comparison. National Cancer Institute

Mammograms are the primary screening used for breast health, but for greater detail of a particular area, an MRI can capture a high contrast detailed image.

Mammography Compared with MRI

Breast imaging technology has changed over the years. Shown are mammography on the left and MRI on the right. Note that MRIs have an enhancement ability to confirm diagnosis.

MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) can be used to get a clear, high contrast image of tissue. If a mammogram has shown a breast mass that seems worrisome, an ultrasound or an MRI can help get more accurate information about it. If the MRI confirms that a mass looks cancerous, a biopsy is the next step. Breast MRIs are much more expensive than mammograms, and the equipment is not as widely available. MRI technology is not used for routine breast screening, but for additional diagnostic imaging of abnormal tissue.


Austin Radiological Association, January 30, 2012.

Dr. Dwight Kaufman. Diagnosis: Mammogram: Cancer (obvious) National Cancer Institute. February 1994.

Dr. Dwight Kaufman. Diagnosis: Mammogram: Normal Dense National Cancer Institute. February 1994.​

Dr. Dwight Kaufman. Diagnosis: Mammogram: Normal Fatty National Cancer Institute. February 1994.

National Cancer Institute. Diagnosis: Mammogram: Abnormal: Microcalcifications National Cancer Institute. 1993.

National Cancer Institute. Diagnosis: Mammogram: Fibrocystic Disease National Cancer Institute. 1993.

Mitchell D. Schnall, M.D., Ph.D. University Of Pennsylvania. Diagnosis: Mammogram vs. MRI: Breast (cancer) National Cancer Institute. February 1994.

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