Mammography 101

mammogram

You probably already know from all the pink you've seen worn – by everyone from health care workers to football players – that October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Breast cancer is a cause that brings people together, because most people know someone who has – or had – the disease.

One in eight women will develop breast cancer over their lifetime. It is the most common cancer afflicting women other than skin cancer.

One take-home from Breast Cancer Awareness Month is just how important mammograms are.

What is a Mammogram?

Many women are already familiar with mammograms, because they have them annually.

But many women have not had a first-hand experience with mammograms because they are younger, they're worried about how it will feel or numerous other reasons.

Essentially, a mammogram is an X-ray, something many people have had before. However, instead of showing a broken bone that has already been fractured, a mammogram shows abnormalities that could be breast cancer developing.

If a mammogram detects something, more tests are completed. This could include a second mammogram or an ultrasound.

Mammograms cannot prove cancer is present, only biopsies can, but mammograms are a key component of detecting cancer in its early stages when it can be more treatable.

Do Mammograms Hurt?

Mammograms are not necessarily painful. You will feel some pressure during a mammogram, but typically each breast is only compressed for a few seconds.

Your doctor or nurse can offer suggestions on how to minimize any discomfort. They may recommend a time during the month you should have the test, based on your cycles, and whether it is OK to take acetaminophen.

There are different types of mammograms, and they vary somewhat in duration. A screening mammogram usually takes 15 to 30 minutes, and a diagnostic mammogram can take 30 to 45 minutes.

When Should You Get a Mammogram?

It's important you discuss with your doctor when you should begin having regular mammograms.

Many breast health experts recommend annual screenings at age 40 – or possibly earlier for higher-risk patients.

Breast cancer risk factors include:

  • Being overweight
  • Smoking
  • Having a family history of breast cancer

Your Mammogram Results

While mammograms have been proven to make a life-saving difference, remember mammograms don't prove you have cancer.

There is a chance for a false-positive – an abnormality that turns out to not be breast cancer after further testing. It's very nerve-wracking if a health care professional tells you they "saw something" on your breast X-ray, but try to remember that this does not necessarily mean you have breast cancer.

It is possible mammograms may miss abnormalities and return a "false-negative" in a small percentage of breast cancer cases.

Although some cancers detected can still be fatal, mammography remains the best screening tool available.

Bottom Line

Having regular mammograms could help you enjoy a longer life.

Each person is different based on their risk factors and health history. So talk to your doctor to determine what screening schedule makes the most sense for you.

What better time to get the conversation started than Breast Cancer Awareness Month?

To find a provider, visit UnityPoint Clinic today.

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