Mammogram

A mammogram is X-ray picture of the breast. It is used to detect breast cancer in women who have no signs or symptoms of the disease. It can also be used if you have a lump or other sign of breast cancer. If you and your doctor have determined you need a mammogram, based on your age and personal risk factors, you must undergo a breast screening mammogram procedure.

What are the additional breast cancer tests?

  • Breast Cancer Screen: A blood test used to detect BRCA1 and BRCA2, which are genes linked to breast cancer; mutations in these genes are associated with a greater risk for breast and ovarian cancer
  • PET/CT Scan: A breast scan used to diagnose and locate tumors or abnormalities of the breast
  • Breast MRI: Often ordered in conjunction with other breast exams (such as mammography and ultrasound) to screen women who are at a high risk for breast cancer

Mammogram

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When to test

Women between the ages of 50 – 74 should undergo a mammogram or breast X-ray every two years as they are at a greater risk. Women between the ages of 40 – 49 should talk to their doctor about when to start, and how often to get a mammogram. It is extremely important for women to get mammograms regularly, because taking precautionary measures can lower their risk of developing breast cancer.

  • Lump in the breast or underarm (armpit)
  • Thickening or swelling of part of the breast
  • Irritation or dimpling of breast skin
  • Redness or flaky skin in the nipple area or the breast
  • Pulling in of the nipple or pain in the nipple area
  • Nipple discharge other than breast milk, including blood
  • Any change in the size or the shape of the breast
  • Pain in the breast

What is a Mammogram?

Mammograms are a vital tool in the early detection for breast tissue abnormalities and breast cancer. The procedure consists of breasts being carefully placed between two firm surfaces by the mammography machine. The machine then compresses the breast tissue to be properly visualized for microcalcifications. The images generated by mammography are called a mammogram. 

Are there other names for a Mammogram?

Alternative names for a mammogram are mammography. 

Why is it done?

There are two types of mammograms which are done for different reasons: Screening Mammogram: Which is an early preventative measure for patients that do not show signs or symptoms of breast cancer. The purpose of screening mammograms is preventative. Diagnostic Mammogram: For patients who do show abnormal breast signs and symptoms like; new breast lump, breast pain, an unusual skin appearance, nipple thickening, or nipple discharge to confirm the diagnosis of breast cancer so they can be evaluated and treated properly. The purpose of diagnostic mammograms is for confirmation and treatment. 

What do mammograms test for?

Mammograms test for abnormal breast tissue by visualizing microcalcifications. While they do help test for breast cancer, mammograms can sometimes find abnormal tissue that may not be cancer. When this happens, further testing is needed which may cause additional anxiety.

What are the risks of a Mammogram?

Risks of getting a mammogram can include... Low-dose radiation, the radiation is very low compared to normal background radiation from everyday normal living conditions and has been known to be safe. It is recommended to get your mammogram at an accredited facility by the Accredited College of Radiology. Misreading of the mammogram, in certain cases, like in young women, they can present with dense breasts. Which include more glandular and connective tissue that can mask microcalcifications and can be difficult to interpret. It takes a highly skilled radiologist to interpret these types of results. Accuracy, there is the chance that false- negative and false positives can occur based on the results. This may occur on a case-by-case basis. However, the benefit of getting a mammogram outweighs the cost. Can lead to additional testing, such as biopsies, and ultrasounds, if abnormal findings should be detected. This is at the discretion of your physician if additional testing is needed which also may occur on a case-by-case basis. It should be noted and cautioned that not all cancers detected by mammograms can be cured. Some tumors can be aggressive despite the best attempts to treat them.

How do you prepare for a Mammogram?

Preparation of a mammogram includes... Making an appointment with an accredited radiology facility, ACR has established a reputation for strict guidelines regarding machine quality and inspections. Avoid deodorant, antiperspirant, or cosmetics products, aluminum is a common ingredient found in deodorant, antiperspirant, and cosmetic products that can show up on mammograms in the armpit. It's important for the radiologist to read results clearly without errors to prevent any misinterpretations. Take an OTC pain medication, mammograms can be quite discomforting for some patients. By taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) an hour before the exam may help alleviate some discomfort.

What can you expect during a Mammogram?

Radiology facilities usually have a mammography suite strictly designed for this procedure where additional space is reserved for patients to change into gowns and put their belongings into lockers. The procedure itself consists of standing in front of an X-ray machine where the technician places one of your breasts on a platform and raises, or lowers, the platform to match your height. The technician also helps position your head, arms, and torso to allow an unobstructed view of your breast. The breast is slowly compressed against the platform by a clear plastic plate. Pressure is applied for a few seconds to spread the breast tissue for the machine to gain images. Everyone experiences the pressure differently. The pressure isn't harmful, however, some may find it uncomfortable, or even painful. If you have too much discomfort, be sure to let the technician know. During the brief X-ray exposure, you'll be asked to stand still and hold your breath to prevent blurring of the images. After the exam the images taken from both breasts are processed, you may be asked to wait while the technician checks the quality of the images. If the images are inadequate for technical reasons, the procedure must be repeated. The entire procedure typically takes less than 30 minutes. Once completed, you may resume your normal activity. Mammography does not cause any downtime.

What do the results mean?

Radiologists use a particular system to classify mammography results, which is called a BI-RADS score. The scores range from 0 to 5 meaning: 0 - More information is needed and may need another mammogram before a score can be given. 1 - Nothing abnormal is seen and should continue routine screening. 2 - Benign conditions, such as cysts, are seen and routine screening should be continued. 3 - Something is seen that probably is not cancer and must repeat a mammogram within 6 months. 4 - Something is seen that is suspicious for cancer and may need to have a biopsy. 5 - Something is seen that is highly suggestive of cancer and will require a biopsy.

Procedure

When you undergo a mammography test, you are made to stand in front of an X-ray machine. The mammographer who takes the X-rays places your breast between two plastic plates which flattens the breasts. This procedure is slightly uncomfortable, but it helps to get a clear picture. You should get a written report of your breast cancer screening results within 30 days.

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