Mammography plays a key role in the early detection of breast cancers.
What is Mammography?
Mammography is a breast imaging procedure that uses X-rays to produce images of breast tissue. Mammography is performed to find abnormalities in a woman’s breasts, such as tumors or lumps, which may not be evident during physical examination. Images produced by mammography, called mammograms, are examined by a radiologist to determine if an abnormality exists.
Why is Mammography Performed?
Mammography is the most widely performed breast cancer screening procedure and the only breast cancer screening procedure proven to reduce the risk of death from breast cancer. Approximately 16 million mammograms were conducted in in 2012.
Current mammography guidelines from the American Cancer Society, the American College of Radiology, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Society of Breast Disease recommend a screening mammogram every year for women beginning at the age 40. The National Cancer Institute adds that women who have had breast cancer and those who are at increased risk due to a genetic history of breast cancer should begin screening before the age 40.
There are two types of mammography: screening mammography and diagnostic mammography.
- Screening Mammography: Screening mammography is used to check for breast cancer or other breast conditions in women with no symptoms and no previously detected breast abnormalities. Screening mammography should be part of the routine health care services a woman receives because it can detect breast cancer earlier than a physical examination, vastly improving her chances of survival.
- Diagnostic Mammography: Diagnostic mammography is generally performed after a breast abnormality has been detected by screening mammography or physical examination. Diagnostic mammography involves taking more X-ray images, often focused on the specific location of an abnormality, than are produced during screening mammography. This procedure provides a woman and her physicians with more information about a previously detected abnormality.
What to Expect from a Mammography
There are several steps women can take to prepare for mammography.
- Because breasts can become especially tender during menstruation, women should schedule mammography for a date one to two weeks after their period begins.
- Caffeinated foods and beverages can exacerbate breast pain, so women experiencing frequent breast pain should avoid them for five to seven days prior to mammography.
- Wearing comfortable, easy-to-remove clothing is recommended, as mammography requires a bare torso.
- Applying deodorant, perfume, lotion or other products to the underarm or torso is discouraged because they can interfere with the imaging process.
- Pregnant women, women who are breastfeeding, women with breast implants and women with other medical conditions should be sure to inform their physician.
During the procedure, a woman undergoing mammography is joined by a radiologic technologist in a private room and asked to remove any clothing above her waist, as well as any jewelry or other objects that could interfere with the imaging process.
She is then positioned before a mammography machine and her breasts are placed between two compression plates to hold them still. This can cause discomfort or pain. The technologist will then take two images of each breast, one from top-to-bottom and one from side-to-side. The procedure takes approximately 20 to 30 minutes. Following the procedure, the technologist will view the images to assess quality and may ask to take additional images.
The results of mammography are interpreted by a radiologist, who examines a woman’s breast density and looks for signs of calcification or masses in the breast tissue. The results are reported according to a standardized classification system known as Breast Imaging Reporting and Data System (BI-RADS).
If an abnormality is found or a woman is determined to have dense breasts, the radiologist will inform her and/or her primary care physician. A Breastlink radiologist will most likely recommend additional imaging procedures to help provide women with greater clarity.
It is important to note that the presence of an abnormality does not necessarily mean a woman has breast cancer. A diagnosis of breast cancer cannot be made based on the results of screening mammography alone.
Schedule Your Mammogram with Breastlink
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