A mammogram is an examination used for detecting any abnormalities or changes of the female breasts. Mammograms use low doses of X-ray and they are routinely performed in women as a check – up for breast cancer.
However, some types of breast cancer can’t be detected by mammograms, but they can be detected by a manual breast examination. Keep in mind that regular examinations of your breasts are very important in order to detect early changes in the size and shape of the breasts, nipple discharge, pain or even the presence or not of any lumps in the breasts.
Types of Mammograms for Breast Cancer
- Screening mammograms – are performed as a routine check – up among women at a certain age. They are done in order to diagnose any possible changes in the breast tissue that can lead to a detection of breast cancer in its early stages. Women who have screening mammograms usually have no signs and symptoms at all.
- Diagnostic mammograms – are used to check and diagnose breast cancer when a change in the shape and size of the breast is detected, as well as when any lumps are palpated. Diagnostic mammograms last longer, when compared to screening mammograms as they try to better visualize and detect the changes in the breast tissue. Usually, during a diagnostic mammogram, more images of the breasts are taken from different angles.
What Happens During a Mammogram
Usually, it will take no longer than 20 minutes for a mammogram. You will need to stand in front of a special x-ray machine while your breasts are examined one at a time. Breasts are placed between the x-ray plate and a plastic plate in order to spread the breast tissue and get the best imaging of your breast tissue. A certain level of discomfort is normal, but it will only last a few seconds. Usually, two pictures of every breast are taken, one from above and one from the side.
How Often Should a Woman Have a Mammograms?
Mammograms are a must for every woman. Usually, a woman younger than 50 years old should consult with her doctor when and how often she should do a mammogram. If, a higher risk for breast cancer is present, or if any signs and symptoms appear, a mammogram should be repeated often in order to detect breast cancer in its early stages. For women of the age 50 – 75 years old, mammograms are recommended once every two years.
Mammograms and Breast Implants
Regardless if you have natural breasts or you have breast implants, mammograms are a must. When getting ready for mammograms, you should let the technician and the radiologist know that you have breast implants. In many cases, breast implants hide the real breast tissue which makes it more difficult to visualize and examine.
Mammograms: How You Prepare
Mammograms are painful examinations that last no longer than 20 minutes. However, sometimes in cases of diagnostic mammograms, it can take longer.
If you have breast implants don’t forget to let the technician and the radiologist know that you have breast implants.
Avoid having a mammogram during menstrual periods and a week before them. Usually, during the premenstrual period the breasts are more swollen and tender, which will make them hurt more during a mammograms (Read also: Swollen Vaginal Area). If mammography is performed after menstrual periods, the examination itself will hurt less and the visualization of the breast tissue will be better.
Always take old x-ray films with you, in order to compare them with the new x-rays.
Avoid wearing dresses while going for a mammogram. It will make you feel more comfortable if you can undress from the waist and up.
Avoid deodorants, perfumes and powders under the arms and on the breasts as they can sometimes create shadows and interfere with the normal imaging of your breast tissue (Learn also: Genital Hygiene).