Mammograms and BI-RADS and Numbers, Oh My!

Mammograms and BI-RADS and Numbers, Oh My!

BI-RADS. What an odd thing to see on a radiology or mammography report (to you, the patient, at least). So now you’re curious. What does this mean?

It seems that we doctors love big words. Love them, and obscure language, weird acronyms, and unpronounceable things… What are we trying to do? Make you crazy when you’re already nervous?

Actually, we are trying to be specific, and specific is meant to be helpful. Specific language allows us to convey to each other the exact details and needs of a situation or patient. That is something to be thankful for. However, when our language creeps into the world of the patient it might get confusing.

On every breast imaging report you will see a BI-RADS category.  Now that phrase doesn’t sound too bad. It’s only two syllables. But what does it mean? It means “Breast Imaging-Reporting and Data System.” That’s slightly less simple. At least those are words you recognize. But what do they mean when strung together?

BI-RADS is a way of categorizing the findings of a breast imaging exams. They can range from 0 (incomplete) through to 6 (proven malignancy). Within that range, there are also normalcy and abnormalities. The BI-RADS category is a final summary of the study to help referring doctors know the level of suspicion for a finding and to help guide further evaluations if any are needed.

Every breast image is given a BI-RADS rating, whether it’s normal or it’s serious. So when this acronym flies by you, now you know: it is simply a way of saying the status of the findings. That is all.



Originally posted 4/25/13 on