Mammograms: What to Expect
There are many misconceptions and nervousness when getting a mammogram - whether it is your first test or your physician has ordered a diagnostic test. Learn more about mammograms and know what to expect when you arrive for your test.
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What is mammography?
Who should have a mammogram?
Will it hurt?
What are the risks associated with mammography?
What if an abnormality is detected?
Mammography is a low-dose X-ray, which shows the breast's internal structure. A trained radiologic technologist positions each breast between plastic plates that compress them. Compression is necessary for the X-ray to produce a sharp, clear image and it reduces the amount of radiation necessary for the mammogram. The entire test takes only about 15 minutes, after which a radiologist studies the images to pinpoint any suspicious-looking areas.
Your doctor may request a diagnostic mammogram rather than a routine screening. This is a more comprehensive exam in which extra pictures of the breast are taken at various angles. It takes a little longer to complete, but is not significantly different from a routine exam.
The American Cancer Society recommends a first, or "baseline," mammogram for all women at age 40. Thereafter, a mammogram should be performed every year.
Remember, all women are at risk for breast cancer! Even in families where there is no history of breast cancer, mammograms can and do save lives.
The pressure caused by flattening the breast may be a little uncomfortable, but should not be very painful. If you do experience discomfort, the technologist can usually ease the pressure. State-of-the-art machines, such as the one used at Schneck Medical Center, are able to obtain clear images with less pressure. For even greater comfort, it is best not to schedule your mammogram during the week prior to your menstrual period when your breasts are tender. The best time for a mammogram is seven to 10 days after your period begins.
Mammography uses X-rays to form a picture of your breast tissue. However, the amount of radiation emitted by Schneck Medical Center's state-of-the-art mammography unit is extremely low, so the value of the mammography far outweighs any potential risk.
Though mammography is currently the best test for detecting tumors in their earliest stages, it is not perfect. In a small percentage of cases it may fail to detect a suspicious growth. This applies particularly to denser tissue, typical in younger breasts. Therefore, it is vitally important to perform monthly breast self-exams between mammograms.
First, don't panic. With appropriate follow up, the great majority of abnormalities are found to be benign (non-cancerous). The radiologist may recommend that you undergo a second mammogram, or an ultrasound examination. The latter is a painless, non-invasive test that uses sound waves to form precise images of breast tissue.
For best results
Dress comfortably. Consider wearing a skirt or pants so you need to remove only your blouse and bra. On the day of your mammogram, avoid using powder, lotion, or deodorant; they can cloud the images. In addition, don't wear necklaces or other jewelry that might interfere with getting the best possible results.
If you have previously had a mammogram at a facility other than Schneck Medical Center, it is your responsibility to bring it with you.