Having a yearly mammogram beginning at age 40 is the best preventive measure for breast cancer, as well as the easiest way to find it early when it is most curable. Mammograms are not typically recommended for women under 40 because their breast tissue is usually too dense to produce a clear image.
A mammogram is an x-ray that produces an image of the inside of the breast.
There are two types of mammograms:
Screening mammogram: Sometimes referred to as a “routine mammogram,” this type is performed on women with no symptoms. Two images of each breast are taken, one from the side and one from above.
Diagnostic mammogram: This type is performed to help physicians X the cause of such symptoms as a lump in the breast, and many times requires more images than a screening mammogram.
Mammograms do expose the breast to radiation, which is a risk factor for developing breast cancer. However for women older than 40, the benefits of an annual screening mammogram are considered to be greater than the risks associated with radiation exposure. If you have concerns about radiation exposure or your risk factors, discuss them with your doctor before having a mammogram.
Mammograms are performed with an x-ray machine specially designed to take images of the breast. During your mammogram, each breast will be positioned between two plates and compressed to give a complete, clear view of the breast tissue. You will feel pressure and minor discomfort while your breast is compressed. As soon as the image is taken, the pressure will be relaxed. While the mammogram itself only last a few minutes, the entire appointment may last 20 minutes or longer.
Do not apply deodorant, antiperspirant or powder on the day of your mammogram as these may interfere with the images. Because the examination will cause pressure and minor discomfort, try to schedule your mammogram at a time when your breasts are least tender. For example, you may want to avoid the week before your period.
To better identify abnormalities in breast tissue, physicians compare current mammography films with films from previous mammograms. If your last mammogram was performed at The Miriam Hospital, we will have your films ready for your appointment. If your last mammogram was performed elsewhere, simply bring your films with you or when you schedule your examination let our technologists know where it was done and we will obtain them for you.
After the images are taken, one of our board-certified radiologists interprets them. You may be asked to have additional x-rays taken to better evaluate particular areas. This does not mean that there is cause for concern, just that the images may not be as clear as the radiologist would like. Both you and your doctor will receive a letter after your mammogram that discusses your results.