Breast cancer is the number 2 most commonly diagnosed cancer in the United States, and it is the second most common cancer to cause death. (1)
It is important to keep up with your breast health so you can notice any changes that need to be brought up with your doctor.
Mammograms are a central part of your breast health routine.
Your doctor can use this tool to screen you for breast cancer, and they can also use mammograms to check the breast health of women who have had breast cancer previously.
Today, we’ll show you how you can prepare for your mammogram, and how often you should get a mammogram.
First up, what is a mammogram?
What Is A Mammogram?
A mammogram is a specialized x-ray of your breasts.
Theses x-rays are carried out on an x-ray machine designed specifically to get the best pictures of breast tissue by a technician who has been highly trained in getting the necessary pictures so that the radiologist and doctor can make the best decisions about your breast health.
The purpose of the mammogram is to take a closer look at the tissue of your breasts. This can help the doctors see if there are any lumps of other problems indicative of breast cancer.
Mammograms can help your doctor detect breast cancer a few years earlier than you might feel a lump or begin showing signs of problems with your breast health. Breast cancer is easier to treat in its early stages, and mammograms can help your doctor detect changes earlier. (2)
There are 2 different types of mammograms, a screening mammogram and a diagnostic mammogram.
Each type of mammogram serves a different purpose. They are both done in a similar fashion, but there are a few differences between these types of mammogram…
A screening mammogram checks your breast health when you aren’t showing any signs or symptoms of breast cancer. When performing this type of mammogram, the technician takes pictures of each of your breasts from 2 different angles.
If you or your doctor have found a lump in your breast, or you are showing any other signs or symptoms of breast cancer, or if there were any abnormalities on your screening mammogram, then your doctor will order a diagnostic mammogram. When a diagnostic mammogram is performed, more pictures are taken, and from different angles, and often the radiologist reads the pictures as they are being taken so she can get the best information possible to enable your doctor to treat you. (3)
Women with a low to average risk of developing breast cancer are recommended to be screened by a mammogram every 1 to 2 years between the ages of 40 and 50.
Once you reach the age of 50 and beyond, your doctor will tell you how often you should be getting mammograms to keep up with your breast health and screening for breast cancer.
Hormone Replacement Therapy And Mammograms
During menopause, you might choose to use hormone replacement therapy as a treatment option to alleviate your menopause symptoms.
Research has shown that some women will have an increased risk of developing breast cancer while undergoing hormone replacement therapy.
This risk is not the same for every woman. It varies depending on the weight of the woman, her ethnicity and how dense her breasts are. (6)
Because of this risk, it is important you and your doctor discuss whether you are a candidate for mammograms at an earlier time and if you need to be having them done at different intervals.
What Happens During A Mammogram
Once it’s time for your mammogram, there are a few things you can do to get ready for it.
- If you are in the United States, you will want to be sure that the mammogram facility you will be going to is certified by the FDA. There are specific standards these imaging facilities have to meet and making sure they are certified lets you know that everything at the facility is shipshape.
- You should schedule your mammogram for a time when your breasts won’t be tender. If you have yet to go through menopause, this will likely be the week following your period.
- Skip the deodorant, lotion, powder and cream before your appointment. These can cause splotches and blurs on your mammogram images and confuse the radiologist. Unless you want to undergo an unnecessary biopsy, toss the deodorant in your purse and apply it after your appointment.
- If you don’t tolerate pain very well you might want to take a Tylenol or Ibuprofen before your appointment. Some women find the machine causes them pain.
When you arrive for your appointment, the technician will give you a gown to change into. You will need to remove your jewelry and shirt and bra for the test.
The technician will have you stand in front of that mammogram x-ray, and they will place one of your breasts on a platform. They will turn you into a position that allows them to get a good picture of your breast.
The plates of the machine will slowly compress your breast, flattening it out so that the machine can get a clear image of the breast tissue. This can be uncomfortable, and sometimes even painful.
An X-ray will be taken for the breast on your other side as well.
If the pictures are good, you can get dressed and get on with your day (and put on some deodorant).
You should get your test results within 30 days.
You and your doctor can discuss if there were any concerns and determine what your options are going forward.