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Key things you should know before getting a mammogram

mammogram

Getting a mammogram can be a bit intimidating, whether it’s your first time or not. It’s a medical exam that involves your breasts so it’s normal to feel concerned. Although the test itself seems uncomfortable, it’ll help you achieve peace of mind knowing that you’re on top of your health. If you’re planning to get a mammogram, here are things you should know to help you understand it, prepare for it, and feel good about it.

What is a mammogram?

Mammograms are x-ray images of the breast. Mammography is a medical exam that helps check for early signs of breast cancer three years before it can be felt. For those with symptoms, it can help confirm if a lump is cancerous.

Mammograms create accurate images. This is critical since breast cancer is a common disease among women. The American Cancer Society says one in every eight women are likely to develop breast cancer at least once in their lifetime.

Are mammograms safe?

Mammograms are safe. Some people are probably worried that the equipment used for mammography involves exposure to radiation. Although radiation is indeed part of the exam, the doses are far too low to outweigh the harm that may come from exposing the breasts to it. Modern machines are regulated to minimize the doses without compromising the quality of the images.

What are the different types of mammograms

There are two types of mammograms. Screening mammograms are used to check for signs of cancer. Diagnostic mammograms, on the other hand, are follow-up tests for checking abnormal screening results. Here’s a more detailed look at each one.

Screening mammogram

A screening mammogram is used to check for early signs of breast cancer in women who have no visible symptoms. Mammography is efficient enough to capture images of possible tumors years before they can be felt during a breast exam.

Diagnostic mammogram

A diagnostic mammogram is a test for patients who have breast cancer symptoms and for those who had a screening mammogram and got abnormal image results. This takes longer to perform and requires a bit more radiation dose because it involves more images.

Two-dimensional or 2D is the traditional method for mammograms but three-dimensional methods are now available in most breast diagnostic centers, urgent care clinics, and other healthcare facilities in the US.

What are 3D mammograms?

A 3D mammogram or tomosynthesis is a more modern way of screening for breast cancer symptoms in women. While 2D mammograms take two photos of each breast, one from the side and another from above, a tomosynthesis with CAD or computer-aided technology captures multiple images to create a clearer, more detailed picture of the breast.

What does having a mammogram feel like?

Having a mammogram may feel awkward and uncomfortable. First, it can be awkward for patients to bare their breasts to their doctors and to have them slightly squeezed or squished during the exam. 

Secondly, the part where pressure is applied on the breasts may feel slightly to moderately uncomfortable. But a professional doctor will always try to ensure you are respected and make your experience as comfortable as possible. 

Do mammograms hurt?

Generally, mammograms don’t hurt. It may cause discomfort but not pain, and only for just a few seconds. However, some patients say they experience pain during and after the exam. This can be caused by various factors:

  • The pain felt is a symptom of breast cancer
  • The patient has fibrocystic breasts
  • The patient or machine is not positioned right
  • The technician or healthcare provider is not skilled enough to perform the test

These are possible reasons that may cause pain during mammograms. Make sure to get tested only at legit and reliable healthcare facilities. Also, let your doctor know if you feel any pain or discomfort during the exam so necessary adjustments can be made to make the experience less uncomfortable.

What are the risks of a mammogram?

The main risk of mammography is, just like other medical exams, it isn’t perfect. Some of the most common risks associated with mammograms are:

  • False-negative results, wherein breast tissue effectively hides a cancerous tumor
  • False alarms or false positive results wherein an abnormal-looking tumor turns out to be normal, harmless breast cysts
  • Any abnormal findings may lead to additional tests, which can be stressful and costly

When should you get a mammogram?

The United States Preventive Services Task Force, an organization of experts in disease prevention, recommends that women should be encouraged to get annual mammograms starting at age 40. Women ages 50 to 74 years old can get breast cancer screening every two years.

You can still get a mammogram if you’re pregnant but only in the presence of suspicious lumps or other breast cancer symptoms. The radiation emitted during the exam is far too low to affect the fetus in a woman’s womb.

How to prepare for a mammogram?

Here are a few tips to help you prepare for your mammogram:

  • Don’t wear any products on your breasts or under your arms. Any residue of lotion, perfume, deodorant, and the like may show up as a suspicious blur on the mammogram.
  • Schedule a mammogram at least a week after your monthly menstrual period.
  • If you’re worried about pain or discomfort, take pain medication an hour before the exam.
  • Wear a top and bottom outfit as you’ll be required to remove your top for the mammogram.
  • Don’t wear any jewelry or accessories around your neck.
  • Bring any test results or reports of mammograms, biopsies, and any other breast-related procedures you’ve had in the past.
  • Eat, drink, and take your medications as usual.
  • Avoid caffeine and chocolate three to four days before your mammogram.
  • Bring necessary documents, such as your doctor’s mammogram request, IDs, and insurance card.
  • Wear flat shoes as you’ll be required to lean forward or backward while standing during the breast exam.

How long does a mammogram take

The entire mammogram procedure may take around 30 minutes. Each breast will only be compressed for imaging for about 20 to 30 seconds.

About your mammogram results

You can expect your mammogram results to be ready within two weeks. After the exam, the images will be given to a radiologist for reading. The radiologist will then categorize the results using a number system, and that number will then be explained to you by your doctor.

Breast cancer and mammograms

Most mammogram results are often normal. For those who get abnormal results, doctors would recommend further testing, like a breast cancer ultrasound or a breast scan, to check if it’s cancer. If further tests show that everything’s normal or the mass they saw is benign, there’s nothing to worry about.

How fast can breast cancer develop between mammograms?

However, there are cases when women get abnormal results the next time they go for their annual mammogram. Doctors are still unable to determine why some cancers creep up in the months between breast exams. Often, these are aggressive types of cancers and will need immediate treatment.

What does breast cancer look like on a mammogram?

Breast cancer doesn’t look the same way in every patient since no two breasts are the same. Normal or benign lumps often have a smoother edge. Often cancerous ones show as tiny white dots often referred to as calcifications. They may show separate from each other but some may come in clusters or seemingly connected with thin white lines. Check out these more detailed explanations of mammogram images.

What should women with breast implants do about screening mammograms?

Women with breast implants should still undergo screening mammograms regularly. It’s important to mention to your doctor and to the mammogram technician that you have implants. This is because women with implants need to get extra captures for them to get images of those areas that may otherwise be covered by the implant.

Where to get mammograms near me?

There are several hospitals, clinics, urgent care centers, and medical facilities that offer mammogram services in the US. You can find a mammogram near me using the US Food & Drug Administration search page where medical facilities, including accredited breast diagnostic centers, women’s breast centers, and breast screening clinics are listed.

How much does a mammogram cost?

On average, a mammogram will cost $175 or more without insurance, depending on where you go. Most major health insurance plans cover mammography. Make sure to call your insurance provider before booking an appointment to check if it’s part of your coverage.

Ready for your mammogram?

Mammograms won’t prevent breast cancer. But its tremendous contribution in helping save lives by finding breast cancer early enough for immediate treatment is reason enough to get them. Sure, it can get pretty scary especially if it’s your first time. But early detection won’t only mean that you get to keep your breasts healthy, it also means that you get to live a life free of worries with your loved ones.

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