Breast Health Mammogram

The breast mammogram is one of the most effective methods of early breast cancer detection. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center (2007), mammography can detect over 90 percent of breast cancers–even before they begin causing cancer symptoms.

What is a Breast Mammogram?

A mammogram is a breast exam that involves taking X-rays of your breasts and breast tissue. Mammogram results can be used to both detect tumors and cysts in the breasts, as well as discern between cancerous and non-cancerous tumors. As of yet, mammography is the only reliable method of detecting certain tumors. Digital mammography–a more advanced type of breast cancer mammogram–displays digital mammogram results on a computer screen. This type of mammogram, however, isn’t widely available as of yet.

Breast Mammogram: What to Expect

MammogramDuring a mammogram, a health-care technician will place your breasts on flat x-ray plate one at a time. After a compressor flattens the breast tissue, the technician will take a series of X-rays from several angles. This procedure shouldn’t hurt, but you may feel discomfort. If you have sensitive breasts, schedule a mammogram for a time when your breasts are least sensitive.

The level of radiation you receive from a breast mammogram is quite low and any radiation exposure risk is minimal. A lead apron protects your vital organs from radiation exposure. If you have any concerns about this, talk to your doctor before your mammogram.

Breast implants can obscure mammogram results, making it difficult to detect signs of breast cancer. However, women with breast implants are still advised to get mammograms, as they can still play a role in early detection. If you have implants, your doctor can refer you to a facility that specializes in screening women with breasts implants. Disclose the fact that you have implants when making the appointment, and again when you arrive for your appointment.

When to Have a Breast Mammogram

How often should you be screened for breast cancer with a mammogram? The American Cancer Society (2010) recommends yearly mammograms for women 40 years of age and over, while the National Cancer Institute (2010) recommends that women in the same age bracket receive a mammogram every one to two years. These are general recommendations, so you’ll want to talk to your doctor about how often you should be screened. Your doctor may have different advice, depending on your personal risk factors.

If you notice any of the following warning signs of breast cancer, report them to your doctor immediately:

  • A change in breast or nipple color
  • A change in shape of the breast
  • A change in size of the breast
  • A lump in the breast
  • A new dimple in the breast skin
  • An inverted (turned in) nipple
  • Nipple discharge.

Resources

American Cancer Society. (2010). Breast cancer: Early detection. Retrieved November 19, 2010, from http://www.cancer.org/acs/groups/cid/documents/webcontent/003165-pdf.pdf

Breast Cancer Society. (2010). Breast cancer screening. Retrieved November 19, 2010, from http://www.breastcancersociety.org/aboutbreastcancer/earlydetection/breastcancerscreening.shtml

Mayo Clinic Staff. (2009). Mammogram. Retrieved November 19, 2010, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/mammogram/MY00303

National Cancer Institute. (2010). Mammograms. Retrieved November 20, 2010, from http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Detection/mammograms

New York Presbyterian Hospital. (n.d.). Mammography. Retrieved November 19, 2010, from http://nyp.org/health/breast-mammo.html

Ohio State University Medical Center. (n.d.). Mammography. Retrieved November 19 2010, from http://medicalcenter.osu.edu/patientcare/healthcare_services/breast_health/ breast_health_preventative_care/mammography/Pages/index.aspx

U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2009). Mammography. Retrieved November 19, 2010, from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003380.htm

University of Maryland Medical Center. (2007). Radiology – Mammography. Retrieved November 19, 2010, from http://www.umm.edu/radiology/mamm.htm