Breast Cancer: Mammograms

For many women, the thought of having a mammogram is scary. You may not know what to expect from the procedure, and, of course, there’s the fear that you may get abnormal mammogram results. Coming into it as prepared as possible will make the whole experience much easier. Keep in mind that the earlier breast cancer is detected – before a lump can be felt – the better the chance of successfully beating it.

A mammogram uses special X-rays and very low doses of radiation to take images of the breast. It helps show an abnormal breast growth or changes in the tissue. Most women get their first mammogram around age 40, and then again approximately every 1 to 2 years.

Before the test, you will be asked to remove all jewelry, to remove all clothing from the waist up, and to put on a hospital gown. Avoid wearing any creams, lotions, or body powder on your chest that day, as they can interfere with the X-ray imaging.

During a mammogram, each breast is compressed between 2 plates for the X-rays to show the image on the film. A mammography technologist, most often a woman, will be assisting during the test. The breast will be gently flattened to get the clearest picture with the least dose of radiation. Any pressure or discomfort felt from the compression lasts only a few seconds while the X-ray is taken. Usually, images will be taken from 2 positions on each breast to get the most complete picture possible. All of this should take approximately 20 minutes. Another doctor will interpret the films after they are developed. He or she may request additional images or a breast ultrasound if there were any unclear images on the X-rays. The X-rays show your breast tissue as white and opaque while the fatty tissue appears darker.

Your results will be sent to you within 30 days, however, if there are any abnormalities of concern, you will be contacted within 5 days. Your X-rays will be sent to your doctor, who will review the results with you. It is not uncommon for further mammograms to be requested, or for biopsies to be obtained of unusual areas. This is not the same as a diagnosis of breast cancer and the reasons for further testing will likely be thoroughly explained to you by your physician.

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