A mammogram is an X-ray of the breast that is used to detect irregularities or suspicious masses. Safe and highly effective, mammograms are the most important tool doctors use to diagnose breast cancer. They are used as both an early detection tool for women experiencing no symptoms and a diagnostic tool for women experiencing symptoms such as a lump, pain or nipple discharge.
Mammography plays a central part in early detection of breast cancers because it can show changes in the breast up to two years before a patient or physician can feel them. Current guidelines recommend screening mammography every year for women, beginning at age 40. Research has shown that annual mammograms lead to early detection of breast cancers, when they are most curable and breast-conservation therapies are available.
The National Cancer Institute (NCI) adds that women who have had breast cancer and those who are at increased risk due to a genetic history of breast cancer should seek
Digital Mammography uses the same technique as film screen mammography, except the image is recorded directly into a computer. The new technology provides a clearer and brighter image of the breast issue. This allows radiologists to detect more abnormalities, especially in younger women with denser breasts. Images are also able to be magnified and manipulated on the computer screen for enhanced views, something that cannot be done with X-ray film.
Before scheduling a mammogram, the American Cancer Society (ACS) and other specialty organizations recommend you discuss any new findings or problems in your breasts with your doctor. In addition, inform your doctor of any prior surgeries, hormone use, and family or personal history of breast cancer. Do not schedule your mammogram for the week before your period if your breasts are usually tender during this time. The best time for a mammogram is one week following your period. Always inform your doctor or mammography technologist if there is any possibility that you are pregnant.
It is also recommended that you:
- Do not wear deodorant, talcum powder or lotion under your arms or on your breasts on the day of the exam. These can appear on the mammogram as calcium spots.
- Describe any breast symptoms or problems to the technologist performing the exam.
- If you have had previous mammograms at another facility, please obtain them so that the radiologist is able to use them as comparison to your current exam.
During the Mammogram
Mammography is performed on an outpatient basis. When you get a mammogram, a specially trained technologist helps place your breast between two plastic plates. Pressure is applied for a few seconds to flatten the breast, allowing for a clear image. Two pictures are taken of each breast and the entire mammography exam takes approximately 15 minutes. You may find the pressure uncomfortable, but some women experience no discomfort at all.
Breast compression is necessary in order to:
- Even out the breast thickness so that all of the tissue can be visualized.
- Spread out the tissue so that small abnormalities are less likely to be obscured by overlying breast tissue.
- Allow the use of a lower x-ray dose since a thinner amount of breast tissue is being imaged.
- Hold the breast still in order to minimize blurring of the image caused by motion.
- Reduce x-ray scatter to increase sharpness of picture.
The technologist will stand behind a glass shield during the x-ray exposure. You will be asked to change positions between images. The routine views are a top-to-bottom view and an oblique side view. The process will be repeated for the other breast.
You must hold very still and may be asked to keep from breathing for a few seconds while the x-ray picture is taken to reduce the possibility of a blurred image. The technologist will walk behind a wall to activate the x-ray machine.
When the examination is complete, you will be asked to wait until the radiologist determines that all the necessary images have been obtained.
The examination process should take about 30 minutes.
After the Mammogram
A radiologist, a physician specifically trained to supervise and interpret radiology examinations, will analyze the images and send a signed report to your primary care or referring physician, who will discuss the results with you. If further imaging is needed, you will be contacted by the ALMH mammography technologist. If it is determined that a biopsy needs to be performed, Clinical Radiologists will perform the test and results will be sent to your primary care or referring physician. At that time, your team will work with you to determine whether or not a surgery consultation is needed. ALMH also offers breast biopsy using needle localization. This procedure uses very thin needles or guide wires in order to pinpoint the correct area of the breast for biopsy.
It’s helpful to know at a time like this that ALMH is the best place to come for complete care. ALMH’s affiliation with Memorial Health System gives you access to Memorial Breast Diagnostic Services, designated as a Breast Imaging Center of Excellence by the American College of Radiology – an achievement that has been earned by fewer than 200 of the 8,800 certified breast imaging centers in the United States.
Every woman is at risk for breast cancer, and her risks increase with age. Three quarters of all breast cancers occur in women over 50. Women over 70 are twice as likely to develop the disease.
Surviving Breast Cancer
Survival depends on the stage of breast cancer at the time of diagnosis. The survival rate is increased if the cancer has not spread. Early-stage breast cancer that has not spread to the lymph nodes has more than a 90 percent five-year survival rate. When the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes, it decreases to a 60 percent five-year survival rate. This is why early detection is so important.
Breast Cancer Prevention
- Monthly Breast Self-Exams – Watch for a change in the look or feel of your breast along with any abnormal lumps.
- Clinical Breast Exams – Schedule a yearly appointment with your medical provider.
- Annual Digital Mammograms – Call 217-605-5270 to schedule an appointment.