Mammograms are X-rays of the mammary glands or the breasts, primarily used to detect problems in the breasts, such as lumps, cysts or any kind of solid mass. The basic purpose of mammograms is to detect or screen out breast cancer amongst women.
In fact, mammogram tests are able to detect tiny tumors before they can even be felt by women or their physicians. Cancer can be treated in the best manner if it is detected at an early stage. Remember that mammograms cannot treat or prevent breast cancer, but can reduce the risk of a woman developing this horrific disease.
Experts are often seen to be at a difference of option regarding how often and when a woman should undergo a mammogram test. According to the U.S Preventive Service Task Forces, women aged between 40 and 49 years should not have regular mammogram tests, but should discuss with their doctors to find out when and how often they need to have mammogram screening, depending on their unique situation, their risk quotient, and their preference.
However, there are a few organizations that recommend all women over the age of 40 years to undergo mammograms regularly within a span of 1-2 years. Those women older than 50 years of age, must get mammogram tests carried out regularly. Women who are above the age of 75 years can consult with their doctor to find out whether or not they need to get mammogram screening. Sometimes a doctor may recommend mammograms even at a much younger age to women who are more at risk of developing breast cancer.
One thing that is extremely important to remember is that mammograms are not always 100 percent accurate. Sometimes, mammograms detect cancer or lumps even when they are not present, especially in cases of younger women. Thus, about 5 or 10 percent of mammogram screenings often require further testing. These further tests can be carried out through another mammogram of the specific breast tissues or other tests including biopsy or ultrasound.
Why Are Mammogram Tests Done?
Mammogram tests are carried out to:
• Screen women for breast cancer, even if they are not suffering from any symptoms.
• Detect the presence of breast cancer amongst women displaying symptoms of the disease. These symptoms may include thickening inside the breast, presence of lumps, dimpling of skin somewhere on the breast, or discharge from the nipples.
In case any kind of abnormality is found in the mammograms, then a breast tissue from the suspicious region in the breast is removed and examined under the microscope, through a process known as biopsy.
Preparing yourself for the Mammogram Test
If you have ever had mammograms done before in your life, ask the previous clinic to send over your results to the current clinic or get them at the time of the examination, if you have the results with you. Besides this, you need to let your health care professional know in case you:
• Are or could be pregnant: Mammograms are x-rays with low-dose radiation exposure and should not be carried out in case you are pregnant.
• Are breast-feeding: Mammograms do not always provide the right result in women whose breasts contain milk.
• Have had breast implants: Women with breast implants need to undergo a different and modified methods of mammogram testing.
• Have had breast biopsy in the past: Knowledge about the presence and location of any scar tissues will help your radiologist to read the mammogram more accurately.
On the day of getting testing, avoid using any perfume, deodorant, ointment, or powder on the breasts. This is important as the residue that these products leave on the skin can interfere with the x-ray.
In case you are having your menstrual periods, it would be ideal to get your mammograms done within 2 weeks of the end of your menstrual periods. This is because the process will be a lot more comfortable, particularly if the breasts become more tender before the beginning of the next period.
How Mammogram Testing is done?
Mammogram testing is done by mammogram technologists or radiology technologist. Once the testing is done, the x-rays are interpreted by radiologists who specialized in x-ray evaluations.
To get the test done, you will have to remove all jewelries that could interfere with the x-rays. You will also have to remove all your clothes from above the waist and wear a paper or cloth gown given to you while the test is performed. If you are anxious about any particular area on your breast, point it out to your technologist so that special attention can be given to that region.
Most of the time, mammograms are performed while the patient is standing up, but sometimes you may be asked to lie down or sit down, according to the kind of x-ray equipment being used. Each of your breasts is placed on a plate containing the x-ray films one by one. Another plate is pressed against the breast firmly in order to flatten the breast tissue.
Extreme compression is required to get high-quality images. You can often be asked to hold the other breasts away using your hand, or be asked to lift your arms to get them out of the way. You will also have to hold your breath for few seconds when the x-ray will be taken. Most of the time, two pictures of each breast is taken, one from the sides and the other from the top.
The entire time taken in the mammogram clinic can go up to an hour, even though the test does not take more than 10 or 15 minutes. You can also be asked to wait for some time till the x-ray is developed, in case they need to taken repeat pictures. Some hospitals and clinics use digital screens where the x-ray images can be viewed instantly.
How It Feels?
Mammograms can often be uncomfortable but are rarely too painful. Those who have fragile or sensitive skin or are suffering from any skin disorder can inform the technician regarding the same before undergoing the exam. The procedure becomes more comfortable when performed 2 weeks after the end of your periods.
The x-ray plate usually feels quite cold when the breast is placed on it. Having the breasts squeezed and flattened is usually quite uncomfortable; but it is very important to flatten out the tissues in order to get the perfect pictures.