Things to Know before Undergoing a Mammography Exam

Things to Know before Undergoing a Mammography Exam

A mammography exam, (also called a mammogram) is an important step inmonitoring breast health. This is a specialized medical ultrasound imaging technique that utilizes a low-dose X-ray system to capture the images of the breast tissue, used to detect and diagnose breast cancer, the most common form of cancer among women. Reports from Breastcancer.org suggests that an estimated 266,120 new cases of invasive breast cancer are expected to be diagnosed in women in the United States in 2018, along with 63,960 new cases of non-invasive (in situ) breast cancer. It is estimated that about 1 in 8 US women (about 12.4%) will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of their lifetime. If you are planning to undergo mammography screening in Queens, NY area, make sure to approach a reputable and certified radiology imaging center that uses state-of-the-art technology to produce high-quality images.

The mere thought of undergoing your first mammogram can be nerve-wracking. Women may have frequently heard stories that are scary. Preparing for this screening procedure in the correct way can help reduce anxieties about the procedure and make the results more accurate. To help reduce the fears and clear confusions associated with mammography services, we have put together several tips and answers to frequent questions about having your first or annual screening mammogram.

What Is a Mammogram?

A mammogram is an X-ray test that is used to capture images inside the breasts. This diagnostic imaging technique is basically used to visualize normal and abnormal structures within the breasts. It can help in identifying tumors, cysts, nodules, distorted tissues, calcifications and enlarged lymph nodes within the breast. This technique is currently the most efficient screening method to detect early stages of breast cancer.

Why Is This Procedure Done?

Undergoing a mammogram helps in detecting breast cancer – possibly in its early stages, when it’s most treatable. Generally, mammography can be used either for screening or for diagnostic purposes in evaluating a breast lump. Screening mammography is used to detect breast changes in women who have no other signs and symptoms or new breast abnormalities. The main aim is to find cancer before clinical signs becomes noticeable. On the other hand, diagnostic mammography is used to examine suspicious changes in the breasts such as breast lump/pain, unusual skin appearance and nipple thickening or discharge.

When Do I Need to Undergo Mammograms?

There is no ideal age to start mammography screening to detect breast cancer. How often you should undergo a mammogram depends mainly on your age and your potential risk of breast cancer. However, the American College of Radiology (ACR) guidelines suggest that women (with an average risk) should begin the procedure at the age of 40 years until age 54 years and then continue it every two years for at least the next 10 years (even if they don’t have a family history of breast cancer). The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends women start screening every two years starting at age 50 until age 74.

How Is a Mammogram Performed?

At a certified center for diagnostic imaging, the whole procedure will take only about 30 minutes. When patients arrive for their screening procedure, they will be asked to remove neck jewelry and clothing from the waist up and wear or change to a hospital gown. At the start of the procedure, a technologist will explain the procedure in detail and answer different queries of the patients related to the process. They will examine your breasts for lumps and enquire whether you have breast problems, (whether you had done any breast surgery orare taking hormones).

Patients will be asked to stand in front of the mammography unit wherein the radiographer will position their breasts onto animaging support table. A plastic plate will be lowered onto the breasts, to hold and compress that area. You will be asked to hold your breath and stand still while the images are being taken (to minimize blurring of the image caused by motion). The same process will be repeated for each breast. Firm compression of breasts will help produce a high quality mammogram. In most cases, during compression women may experience tightness and discomfort, but this will last only for some time. However, patients should always inform the technologist if they experience considerable breast pain due to increased compression. Pregnant women are advised to avoid having a mammogram since the x-rays can harm their unborn baby.

How long does the procedure take?

The whole procedure takes about 20 – 30 minutes. The actual breast compression only lasts a few seconds.

Can Women with Breast Implants Undergo Mammography?

Yes, women with breast implants can undergo the procedure. At the first instance, they should inform the radiology facility/technicians that they have implants at the time of making appointment. This will help the mammography specialists to perform additional images (called Eklund views) during the exam. These views include four views of the breast – with the implant pushed out of the mammogram view and the breast tissue itself pulled forward. These views help capture maximum images of breast tissue (around the implants) without compressing the implant itself.

What Preparations Are Required for a Mammogram?

Here are some tips to prepare for a mammogram –

  • Avoid scheduling this procedureduring your menstrual period or the week before your menstrual cycle (when your breasts are most tender).
  • Do not use any powder, lotion, deodorant or perfume on your breasts or armpits on the day of examination. Metallic particles in these products may show up on the images and confuse the results.
  • Wear a two-piece outfit, not a dress. Since, you will need to wear a hospital gown into the exam room; you will need to undress from the waist up.Remove all jewelry before the breast exam to ensure the results are accurate.
  • Bring along the records and CD images of previous mammograms done (if any) so that the radiologists can compare the current images with previous ones. In addition, inform your doctor about any prior surgeries, hormone use, and family or personal history of breast cancer.
  • Taking over-the-counter pain medications, such as aspirin, acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others), about an hour before the test might reduce the discomfort of the procedure.
  • There is no restriction on food or fluid intake and patients can continue to consume their normal medications.

The thought of undergoing a mammogram may feel intimidating, but this may help in early detection of breast cancer. Do not panic if your radiologist reports abnormal findings. An abnormal mammogram does not always mean that you have cancer. When the imaging procedure detects a suspicious area, the patient may be advised to obtain further mammograms of that area, to have an ultrasound or other imaging study of the breast, or to have a biopsy performed of the suspicious area. Being informed about mammography services and its associated risk factors can help patients reduce their concerns.