An x-ray of the breast called a mammography scans it for abnormalities that might indicate breast cancer. The most reliable strategy to detect breast cancer early is to undergo routine screening with a mammogram. Early-stage breast cancer that is tiny and has not spread is simpler to treat successfully.
Some essential things to know about getting a mammogram:
– Finding breast cancer early reduces your risk of dying from the disease by 25-30% or more. Women should begin having mammograms yearly at age 40, or earlier if they’re at high risk.
– Mammography is a fast procedure (about 20 minutes), and discomfort is minimal for most women. The procedure is safe: there’s only a very tiny amount of radiation exposure from a mammogram.
– If you have dense breasts or are under age 50, try to get a digital mammogram. A digital mammogram is recorded onto a computer so that doctors can enlarge certain sections to look at them more closely.
HOW MAMMOGRAMS WORK
Mammograms are done with a machine designed to look only at breast tissue. The machine takes x-rays at lower doses than the x-rays done to look at other parts of the body, like the lungs or bones. The mammogram machine has 2 plates that compress or flatten the breast to spread the tissue apart. This gives a better quality picture and allows less radiation to be used.
HOW MAMMOGRAMS FEEL
Your experience will vary depending on the technician’s expertise, the size of your breasts, and how hard they need to be squeezed. If you are about to start or are currently on your period, your breasts may be extra sensitive. The mammography will be read by a physician with specialised training known as a radiologist. He or she will examine the X-ray in search of any early indications of breast cancer or other issues.
A radiologist reads your mammogram and then reports the results to you and your doctor. If there is a concern, you will hear from the mammography facility earlier. Contact your health care provider or the mammography facility if you do not receive a report of your results within 30 days.
The main risk of mammograms is that they aren’t perfect. Normal breast tissue can hide a breast cancer so that it doesn’t show up on the mammogram. This is called a false negative. And mammography can identify an abnormality that looks like a cancer, but turns out to be normal. This “false alarm” is called a false positive. Besides worrying about being diagnosed with breast cancer, a false positive means more tests and follow-up visits, which can be stressful. To make up for these limitations, more than mammography is often needed. Women also need to practice breast self-examination, get regular breast examinations by an experienced health care professional, and, in some cases, also get another form of breast imaging, such as breast MRI or ultrasound.
With each mammogram, there is a small amount of radiation exposure from the x-rays. But the amount of radiation is very small.
X-rays can very rarely cause cancer. Having mammograms every 3 years for 20 years very slightly increases the chance of getting cancer over a woman’s lifetime.