Mammograms: How it works and what you need to know

When it comes to preventing breast cancer, early detection is key, which is why regular mammograms are so important. Follow American College of RadiologyMammograms have reduced breast cancer mortality by 40% since 1990.

“Mammograms are important in detecting cancer,” said Dr. Toma Omofoye, a mammogram and associate professor in the Department of Breast Imaging at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas breast cancer at its earliest stage. “Breast cancer that is found in a mammogram before it can be felt is often a much easier disease to treat. It is at a lower stage, has a less intensive treatment or a much shorter course of treatment that may not require the full course of surgery, radiation and chemotherapy.”

A mammogram is an X-ray image of breast tissue used by doctors and radiologists to detect early signs of breast cancer. And when you need to get one depends on a number of factors–your age, risk, and race/ethnicity.

“Everybody with breasts is at risk for breast cancer,” explains Omofoye. “In the United States, for women, there is an one in eight chance of developing breast cancer in their lifetime. It’s less common in men – it’s 1 in 800 in the US, but it happens in men too. There’s no such thing as low risk, unless you’ve had your breasts removed.”

The National Comprehensive Cancer Network recommends that people at average risk of developing breast cancer schedule annual mammograms starting at age 40. But if you have any risk factors, including family history, a breast biopsy If cells are atypical and/or breast tissue is dense, you may need an earlier mammogram. Early detection is especially important for Black and Ashkenazi Jewish women, who are heavily affected by the disease, which is estimated to kill about 45,000 women each year.

Black women are more likely to be diagnosed at a younger age and 40% chance of death breast cancer than white women, while one of 40 Ashkenazi Jewish women have mutations in the BRCA gene, which increases the risk of breast cancer at a young age, as well as ovarian and other cancers.

There are two types of mammograms: screening mammograms and diagnostic mammograms. Which one you need will depend on your individual risk factors or your current symptoms. If you are experiencing nipple discharge, pain, or a lump in your breast, you may need a mammogram to make a diagnosis. But the process is the same for both.

Before mammogram

Illustration that says If you've had a mammogram before and you're going to another facility for your current one, try to bring those pictures with you.  At the very least, memorizing the names will help the new establishment keep track of them.

Illustrated by Rita Liu

The illustration reads: Reducing the amount of caffeine you drink in the weeks before your mammogram can also make your breasts less sensitive.  You can also take ibuprofen or Tylenol first to help with pain.  To make undressing for a mammogram convenient and comfortable, consider wearing a two-piece (with a separate top and bottom) instead of a jumpsuit or skirt.

Illustrated by Rita Liu

The illustration reads: "On the day of your mammogram, be sure not to apply lotion, perfume, or deodorant, as particles may appear on the images."

Illustrated by Rita Liu

To minimize possible discomfort, you should schedule about a week after your period to avoid pain. Mammograms do not require fasting so you can also eat first. If you’re breastfeeding, you may want to bring a breast pump or prepare to express milk by hand to empty your breasts as much as possible before your mammogram.

Once you arrive for your screening, you’ll be taken back to a private waiting room where you’ll remove your shirt and bra, then change into a gown.

During a mammogram

Illustration of patient waiting in mammography room with text: "The technician will take you back to a private room, called the mammo room, where they will ask you about your personal medical history, including whether you have ever had a tumor;  history of breast cancer or biopsy;  as well as your family history to help determine your risk."

Illustrated by Rita Liu

“Mammograms are a test to detect breast cancer, but it is not the only test,” explains Omofoye. “People at above-average risk may need additional screening tests in addition to mammography.”

After the technician has collected your information, you will remove the gown in half or all, if desired.

Illustration of a patient having a mammogram with the words: "Next, you'll get as close as you can to a mammogram, which uses a low amount of X-rays to create an image of the breast.  Then, each of your breasts will be placed on a lower compression plate in turn and the technician will lower the top compression plate so that your chest fits between the two plates.  Each breast requires imaging from two directions;  from top to bottom and side to side."

Illustrated by Rita Liu

“This is where people often talk about discomfort,” says Omofoye. “The more we compress, the better the image. Compression helps reduce the overlap of your normal breast tissue and spreads it out in a really nice way so that hard lumps or cancer stand out more. There used to be signs in our buildings that said ‘we hold back because we care.’”

Illustration of a patient stretching a muscle with caption that reads: Since breast tissue can be found in the armpits and below the curve of the breasts, it will take some work to ensure the machine captures a clear image of the breast. whole breast.  “We need you to relax your shoulders and back as much as possible,” advises Omofoye.  “Easier said than done, but the more you can do that, the easier it is for us to put more tissue into the machine and get high quality images.”

Illustrated by Rita Liu

In total, the whole process takes about 20 minutes in addition to your waiting time.

After mammogram

After the technician has photographed both of your breasts, you are free to put on your clothes and most of the time you can go home. While some facilities offer patients the option of same-day results, most of the time the radiologist will interpret your test within 24 to 48 hours and then report the results. for you or your doctor, this process may take several weeks.

Results may also be uploaded to your provider’s online portal before your doctor has a chance to call you and discuss it. A full report of your results will be shared within 30 days and will include a recommendation at the bottom as to when to complete your next mammogram or if additional screening is needed.

“Mammograms give you additional information about yourself,” says Omofoye. “For example, your mammogram will always show what your breast density is.

Illustration of different breast densities with text: "If your breast density falls into one of the last two categories (category C or D), it means that there is more tissue in the breast as shown on a mammogram that could obscure the cancer.  But thick breasts are normal so we don't want you to worry about that.  It's part of your natural makeup.

Illustrated by Rita Liu

If your mammogram results are normal, you will continue to have mammograms at the recommended intervals for you. If it is your first mammogram, this will serve as the basis for future mammograms and the radiologist will compare future mammograms with this one when searching changes. If your mammogram is abnormal, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have cancer, but you may need more pictures.

“It’s important that you set a reminder to schedule your next mammogram,” says Omofoye. “We’re busy professionals so it’s easy to forget, especially when we’re talking about women in their 30s and 40s. It’s a phase of life with a lot of competing responsibilities, so it’s real. It’s easy to put your health first, but you shouldn’t. A mammogram can save your life.”

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