Ductography is a low dose x-ray exam of the breast ducts. The breast ducts are tubes that carry milk from the lobules to the nipple. This test may also be called galactography.

Ductography is sometimes confused with ductal lavage. Ductal lavage removes breast cells from a milk duct through a small flexible tube (catheter), but no x-ray is taken. The sample from a ductal lavage is looked at under a microscope to determine whether or not there are abnormal cells in the duct.

Why ductography is done

Ductography lets doctors look more closely at the breast ducts. It’s not used very often. The standard imaging test used to diagnose breast cancer is mammography, which is also a type of x-ray of the breast. Ductography may be used with diagnostic mammography to look more closely at the breast ducts to find the cause of clear or bloody nipple discharge.

Ductography is also used to find and diagnose intraductal papillomas.

Preparing for ductography

Don’t use deodorant, antiperspirant, body lotion or talcum powder under the arms or on the breasts before ductography. These products can interfere with the accuracy of the x-ray. You may be given a disposable towel to wipe down your skin around your breasts and armpits.

Wear clothing that is easy to remove from the waist up. Necklaces and other jewellery can get in the way during the test, so you might want to leave those at home.

Don’t squeeze your nipple before your test. The healthcare team needs to see discharge during the exam.

How ductography is done

Ductography is done in a hospital or private radiology clinic. The test takes between 20 minutes and 1 hour.

You may be asked to sit or lie down at the beginning of the test. The healthcare professional will clean the nipple and then squeeze it to produce a tiny amount of fluid. This will help the healthcare team find the duct to be examined during the test.

The radiation technologist will open, or dilate, the duct and place a thin plastic tube in the opening. This may be uncomfortable, but it usually isn’t very painful.

A small amount of contrast medium is injected through the tube into the duct. This helps outline the shape of the duct on the x-ray image and shows if there is a lump or another problem inside the duct.

A mammography machine is used to take the images during ductography. While you stand in front of the mammography machine, your breast is placed between 2 plastic compression plates. The plates are then pressed together to flatten the breast.

The breast tissue is flattened to make the images clearer. Tell the radiation technologist if you have a lot of discomfort during the x-ray. They may be able to adjust the compression to make it more comfortable for you.

You will be asked to keep very still and hold your breath when the x-ray is taken.

Before you get dressed, the technologist will check the images to make sure they are clear enough for the radiologist (a doctor who specializes in using imaging techniques) to read. If the images aren’t clear, you may need to re-do the test.

What happens if a change or abnormality is found

The doctor will decide if you need to have more tests or treatment.

Expert review and references

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