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Mammogram Procedure Overview

Experts recommend that women aged 40 and over should have a mammogram every 12 to 24 months…
A mammogram is an x-ray exam of the chest and is used to discover and diagnose breast diseases, including breast cancer. While it is typically a test performed on women who find a lump or experience pain, it is also deemed to be a routine examination which all women should undergo. Experts recommend that women aged 40 and over should have a mammogram every 12 to 24 months and screenings should start even earlier if you have a personal or family history of cancer. A mammogram enables doctors to find cancer, cysts, and benign tumors before they are noticeable by touch. While the exam does not prove an abnormal area is cancerous, it does raise a red flag and a diagnosis can then by confirmed by a biopsy of the breast tissue.

What Happens During a Mammogram?

You will be asked to remove all upper body clothing and any necklaces or chains. Whether you stand or sit during the procedure depends on the medical facility. Your breasts will be placed on a flat x-ray plate while a compressor pushes the breast down to flatten the tissue and provide a clearer picture of the breast. You may feel slight discomfort and will be asked to hold your breath during each picture. Your doctor will review the images as they appear and might ask for additional images if something needs further examination or is not clear. Please note this is normal and is no cause for concern. Digital mammograms may be available and are excellent for patients under the age of 50, as they normally have denser breasts than older patients. This transforms the x-ray into an electronic image of the breast, which is saved to special computer software; allowing the radiologist to view the pictures immediately and from many digitally enhanced perspectives.

Results

A radiologist can use the images provided by the mammogram to help find calcium deposits in your breasts though these are not typically a sign of cancer. The exam can also find cysts, which are sacs filled with fluid that may appear or disappear during your menstrual cycle and non-cancerous or cancerous lumps. The Breast Imaging Reporting and Database System (BI-RADS) is a national diagnostic system for the reading of mammograms and has seven categories (0-6). Each category decides if more images are needed while also describing whether an area is benign or cancerous. Every one of the seven categories has a specific follow-up plan, which may include regular screenings, future appointments, gathering more images, or having a biopsy.

Risks

You will be exposed to a certain amount of radiation during the mammogram; however, the risk from this exposure is very low. If you are pregnant and must undergo the procedure before the child is due, you will be asked to wear a lead apron. It may also be difficult to interpret a mammogram if you are younger than 30 due to the increased density of your breast tissue.

It is also important to note that you will be asked to follow certain guidelines on the day of the mammogram. For example, you cannot wear perfumes, deodorants, body powders, body creams, or ointments. These substances could distort the images and make it appear as if there are calcium deposits there.

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