About Mammography

A mammogram is an x-ray of your breasts. It provides a picture of the inside of your breasts, where breast cancer starts. There are two types of mammograms: screening and diagnostic. A screening mammogram is done for women who have no symptoms, meaning they have no lump in their breast or other sign of breast cancer. The goal of a screening mammogram is to show tiny breast cancers that you can’t even feel yet, when they’re most successfully treated.

If you’re 40 or older you should have a screening mammogram every year or two, or as often as your healthcare provider recommends. A diagnostic mammogram may be required if you feel a lump in your breast or if your screening mammogram shows something that requires a closer look. In a diagnostic mammogram, more x rays of the breast are taken, especially in the area surrounding the lump or other abnormality. A doctor called a radiologist looks at the x-ray pictures taken during a mammogram and gives the results to your healthcare provider. Mammograms may be performed in a hospital, clinic, or even a shopping center. No medication or anesthesia is needed.

Screening Mammogram

For a screening mammogram, you’ll be shown to a private area and you’ll remove your clothes from the waist up. A soft cape will be provided for you to wear. Next, you’ll go to a room where you’ll meet a technician who will “take” your mammogram.

Most technicians are women, and they understand if you feel embarrassed or afraid, but try not to. The technician might give you two sticky dots to put on your nipples. These will help the radiologist who looks at your x-ray pictures determine the location of any abnormalities. The technician will help you place one breast on a plastic x-ray shelf, which you sit or stand up against. She may ask you to hold onto a handle or turn your body slightly so your breast is positioned just right.

When you’re in position, a second plastic plate will slowly come down and squeeze your breast for a few seconds while the x-ray is taken. You’ll feel pressure but only for a second or two and you’ll be asked to hold your breath during this time.

Usually, two x-rays are taken of each breast. It takes about 15 minutes and then you can leave. You’ll get your results from your healthcare provider at a later date.

Diagnostic Mammogram

A diagnostic mammogram is just like a screening mammogram, except it can take longer because more x-rays are taken of the areas in question. For this test, the technician might place extra sticky dots on your breast-for example, where a lump can be felt or where an odd spot has been seen on your screening mammogram. If your healthcare provider wants even more information after a diagnostic mammogram, you may have an ultrasound, the same painless procedure used to monitor a baby’s progress during pregnancy.

For an ultrasound, you lie down, a warm gel is applied to your breast, and a device like a microphone is moved gently over your breast. Painless sound waves move through the breast and echo back to a monitor, where pictures appear. Ultrasound can show that a breast lump is only a harmless, fluid-filled cyst. If still more information is required, you may need to have a breast biopsy, in which cells are removed so they can be looked at under a microscope to see if they’re cancerous. A biopsy of the breast may be performed in your healthcare provider’s office or in a hospital.

Things to Remember

  • Starting at age 40, have a screening mammogram every year or two, or as often as your healthcare provider recommends.
  • Have your mammogram a week after your period ends, when your breasts are less tender.
  • Tell the mammogram technician if you have breast implants. Your mammogram might take a little longer if you have them.
  • Don’t put on any lotion, perfume, or deodorant before your mammogram.
  • Don’t be too concerned if your healthcare provider tells you your screening mammogram shows something odd and recommends a diagnostic mammogram to check it out. Most women who have a follow-up diagnostic mammogram do NOT have breast cancer.
  • Don’t worry about radiation from a mammogram. You get a very low dose.

What We Have Learned:

  1. A mammogram gives you:
    A. A very high dose of radiation
    B. A very low dose of radiation
    C. No radiation at all
    D. A slight sunburn
    The Answer is B.
  2. Almost all mammogram technicians are:
    A. Women
    B. Men
    C. Surgeons
    D. Interns
    The Answer is A.
  3. The doctor who looks at the x rays taken during a mammogram is called a:
    A. Surgeon
    B. Psychiatrist
    C. Radiologist
    D. Pediatrician
    The Answer is C.
  4. Before my mammogram I will have to:
    A. Take off all my clothes
    B. Undress from the waist up and wear a cape
    C. Not eat for 24 hours
    D. Give blood
    The Answer is B.
  5. You’ll get the results of your screening mammogram:
    A. Right away
    B. At a later date
    C. The next day
    D. While you’re having your mammogram
    The Answer is B.

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Special Thanks to Medtronic for their help in the making of this production.

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