What is a mammogram?
An X-ray image of the breasts is known as a mammogram. Mammograms are used either for diagnostic purposes or breast screening. It helps to find out any unusual growth of cells in the breast for those who either have problems or those who have not noticed it yet. Doctors usually recommend mammograms to diagnose early signs of cancer. Mammograms are also helpful in detecting any suspicious lump of tissues and cysts.
Mammography is quite efficient in detecting early breast cancer, sometimes even before any symptom is seen or felt. By looking at the mammogram, if doctors raise an issue regarding a particular lump of cells as cancerous cells, the tissue is removed for further examination or biopsy. Open surgery is done to remove the suspicious tissue using a needle, and the tissue is examined under a microscope.
This blog offers a detailed guide to understand all about Mammograms, their procedure, their types and the risk involved.
Why do you need a mammogram?
Mammograms play a key role in breast cancer screening. As already mentioned, they can detect breast cancer before it gives out any signs and symptoms. Women with a genetic history and those who are at high risk for breast cance should go for routine breast examination.
Mammograms help in evaluating breast pain when physical examination may not be effective in determining cancer. For women with heavy or lumpy breasts or who are over 30 years, physical examination may not be easy. In such cases, it is suggested to have diagnostic mammography if doctors suspect any symptoms like a palpable lump, nipple retraction or discharge, sore in the nipple, breast skin itching, severe pain or indentation in the breast.
What are the types of mammograms?
Mammograms are of two types. They are:
1. Screening mammograms
It is used to detect changes in the breast, which shows the growth of cancerous cells on examination. People usually feel no symptoms or signs. It involves two x-rays of each breast. The goal is early detection for less invasive treatment.
2. Diagnostic mammogram
It detects any unusual or suspicious changes in the breast, like thickening, lumpy breasts, pain in the breast, change in the colour or nipple discharge. Thisl is very efficient in detecting any change in a woman's breast, irrespective of age. It takes more time than screening mammograms, and because more x-rays are needed, the dose of radiation is usually higher in this.
Many medical facilities provide screening and diagnostic mammograms in the form of 2D or 3D images. A two-dimensional picture of the breast is also known as a traditional mammogram, and a three-dimensional picture is referred to as breast tomosynthesis. A 3D mammogram is provided along with a 2D mammogram to screen a patient's breast cancer.
How should you go about preparing for a mammogram?
If you are scheduled for a mammogram, here are some things to keep in mind.
- When to schedule an appointment: Try to schedule your mammogram one or two weeks after your menstrual cycle starts because the breasts are tender when you are on your period. If you have breast implants, inform the office at the earliest.
- Precautions to be taken: A lactating or pregnant woman should discuss with the doctor before scheduling the mammogram.
- Personal hygiene tips to remember: Avoid using powder, perfume or deodorant on the appointment day because these products may show as spots on the image.
- What to wear/What to remove for the examination: Remember to remove all the jewelry or piercings before the examination. You must wear a patient's gown right before the examination.
- Other things to carry: Do not forget to carry all your previous reports if you have any. This helps the radiologist to compare your previous images with the new ones.
Carry the reports with you to your doctor and check if there are any other procedures to be done.
What should you expect during a mammogram?
A proper procedure is followed to take an X-ray. These are:
- You will be made to stand in front of an x-ray machine.
- Further, a technician will place your breast on the fixed plate. Another moving plate will firmly press and flatten your breast from above.
- The plates will keep your breast in position, facilitating an x-ray.
- While taking an x-ray, you will be asked to hold your breath and stand still.
- The image captured in black and white form is displayed on the screen alongside for examining any signs of cancer.
- The steps mentioned above are repeated for the other breast and the side view of both breasts.
- A radiologist does a detailed study and looks for any unusual symptoms or signs of cancer or other breast-related problems.
- No two women will get the same mammogram reports because of the difference in their breasts.
Expectations after the test
You will be asked to wait for a while until the team checks for image quality. If they find any unclear picture, they may repeat the procedure for a clear one. The procedure takes around thirty minutes to finish.
How does it feel to have a mammogram?
Any body tissue pressed for long may cause pain and discomfort, although the pain will eventually subside after some time. While having a mammogram, a woman may feel uncomfortable. For a few, it is painful. The test takes around 30 minutes to complete. How you feel while having the mammography depends on your breast size and your technologist's skills. The discomfort also depends on how much the breast needs to be pressed. It may become more sensitive when you are menstruating.
Mammogram reports are usually ready in a few weeks; of course, it depends on your medical facility. The radiologist prepares the reports after examining every minute detail of the breasts, and finally, the results are reported to you and the concerned doctor. Mammograms are studied well when you provide your previous reports to the radiologist. They may do a comparative study and report the same to the doctor.
If the report is normal, the next mammogram must be done only when prescribed by the doctor. If anything unusual or suspicious is noticed, you may be advised to take further tests and biopsies. Not all abnormalities are cancerous.
What are the risks involved in a mammogram?
There are a few risks associated with mammograms which include:
- A very low dose of radiation exposure is experienced during the mammography. For most people, however, the benefits of mammogram outweigh the amount of risk involved due to radiation..
- Taking a mammogram test may lead to additional procedures and biopsies if anything unusual is noticed in the test.
- Some cancers detected by physical examination may not be seen on screening and diagnostic mammograms.
- Sometimes cancer detected in mammography cannot be cured completely because some cancer cells multiply rapidly and spread easily to surrounding body parts.
Doctors have been using breast X-rays for 30 years now, and in the last fifteen years, mammograms have gone through a lot of technological advancement. The tools and equipment used in mammography and the high-definition image quality are helping doctors to do a detailed study with more accurate results and findings. The radiation dose given for this test is kept very low. Hence, the risk involved is negligible. Get in touch with Anderson Diagnostics & Labs, the best diagnostic centre in Chennai to know all the details regarding mammograms. Book an appointment now!