Mammograms are often recommended to women ages 40 or older. From 45 to 54, it is advised that women get a mammogram once a year, according to the American Cancer Society.
Screening mammograms are highly effective at detecting breast cancer early.
A mammogram can generally find lumps two to three years before they can be felt. Based on data published by the National Cancer Institute, breast cancer deaths in women have dropped 43 percent since regular mammography use began in the 1980s.
What Is A Mammogram?
A mammogram is a type of low-dose x-ray that enables radiologists to identify changes in a woman’s breast tissue. This specialized medical imaging equipment is typically used to check for breast cancer in women who have no outward signs or symptoms of cancer. It can also be used as a diagnostic tool on women who have discovered a lump or other signs of breast cancer.
The two main types of mammograms include:
- Screening Mammogram – To detect breast changes, this is the most common type of mammogram. This routine procedure is normally performed every one to two years in women over 40 who have experienced no breast abnormalities. The main goal of a screening mammogram is to detect breast cancer before any clinical signs are noticeable.
- Diagnostic Mammogram – A diagnostic mammogram may be recommended if a woman or health provider discovers a suspicious breast change, such as a lump, unusual skin, breast pain, nipple discharge or nipple thickening. This type of mammogram is used for diagnostic purposes or to further evaluate abnormalities found on a screening mammogram. During a diagnostic mammogram, more images are taken than what is normal with a screening mammogram.
What Happens During A Mammogram?
The average mammogram takes about 20 minutes and is performed by a qualified professional. If possible, a patient should bring their old images to the appointment or grant the health care provider access to these images from the prior provider. This allows the new provider to compare old and new results which can help diminish the risk of false negative or false positive readings.
Do not apply lotion, powder or deodorant prior to a mammogram appointment, but do wear a loose top and bra that are easily removed. Before the screening, the health care provider will usually have the patient put on a front-opening gown. The patient stands facing an x-ray machine, and puts one breast on a platform. The technician releases a plate that presses down the breast. Once images of the first breast are taken, then images of the other breast occur.
The breast is flattened to spread out the tissue, making it easier to spot tumors or other signs of breast cancer. Although this process can be uncomfortable, it lasts just a few seconds. It is normal to experience some soreness following a mammogram. The technician should be notified if severe pain is felt. Good technicians will take their time to minimize pain during the procedure.
After the mammogram is completed, the technician will review the x-rays to ensure that the results are satisfactory, and that no further images are needed. Remember that technicians do not look for signs of cancer.
Instead, the images are transferred to a radiologist who reads the results. The amount of time it takes for a radiologist to read the x-rays and get results can vary from a few days to a month. Mammograms are usually performed while the patient is in a standing position.
It is important not to move during the procedure as any movement can cause the images to blur. The technician will ask the patient to hold her breath for several seconds while the image is taken. If a patient is prone to fainting during medical procedures, a provider may recommend that the patient sit in a chair during the mammogram.
If the results of a mammogram are found to be abnormal, the health care provider will recommend further testing. Abnormal results do not necessarily mean cancer, but more tests are most often needed to make that diagnosis. For diagnostic purposes, a health care provider may recommend a biopsy, core-needle biopsy, ultrasound or a diagnostic mammogram.
Schedule A Mammogram
A mammogram is one of the best tools for detecting breast cancer during its early stages. Each year, mammograms save countless lives, especially when women remember to schedule regular appointments.
It is normal for patients who have never had a mammogram to feel anxious, but knowing what to expect helps diminish any worries or fears. For more information about what to expect from a mammogram or to schedule a mammogram appointment, reach out to the professionals at Raleigh Gynecology & Wellness.