Early Detection & Screening
Mammograms play an important role in early detection. They can detect breast cancer in its earliest stages long before you or your doctor can feel a lump or tumor. And the earlier you find breast cancer, the better your chances are of beating it.
When to Get Started
Mammograms are recommended for women starting at age 40, and are typically repeated every 1-2 years. If you are under 40, be sure to discuss your family health history with your doctor to determine when you should schedule your first mammogram.
What to Expect at Your Mammogram
Scheduling your first mammogram can be nerve-wracking. Relax. Know that you’re doing the best thing for you and your breast health. To better prepare for your first mammogram, here’s what you should know:
- Plan to schedule about 35 to 40 minutes for your mammogram.
- Once you arrive at the facility, you will be asked to fill out some paperwork, including details about your medical history and your family’s medical history.
- A mammogram screening requires that you be undressed from the waist up. You will be provided a gown to wear during the screening.
- During the exam, each breast is rested on a flat surface that contains a X-ray plate. The technician then uses a device called a compressor to help flatten the breast tissue in order to get good and clear images.
- Typically, two images are taken of each breast. If you have breast implants, more images may be required.
- You may be asked to hold your breath while the X-ray images are being taken. Many women report that the test feels uncomfortable – but don’t worry, the discomfort typically subsides when the test is over.
- If images are unclear or if something looks suspicious further testing will be required.
Why Breast Compression is Important
One reason some women avoid getting a mammogram is the discomfort they may experience from breast compression during a mammogram. Compression, or “squishing,” of the breast is used to reduce and equalize breast thickness. This allows for a better quality image and a more accurate read by the radiologist. Women may experience some discomfort from compression, but it is necessary to produce a good, readable mammogram.
Compression of the breast helps in:
- Reducing the radiation dose by decreasing the thickness of the breast.
- Preventing movement, which helps reduce blurriness and eliminate the need for additional imaging.
- Separating the breast tissue, allowing for optimal evaluation of lesions that might be obscured by other tissue.
- Providing uniform thickness to all areas of the breast.
- Diminishing scatter radiation (radiation to other parts of the body).
- Increasing detail by bringing the breast as close as possible to the imaging device.
Be sure to ask your technologist if you have additional questions about compression or other imaging topics.
Comparing Prior & Current Mammograms
An important step in the breast cancer screening process is comparing your current and prior mammograms. This allows the radiologist to better interpret your images and detect any year-over-year changes in your breasts.
If you have recently changed mammography locations, it’s important for you to bring your past mammography images (or have them sent ahead of time), so the radiologist can interpret your current exam and compare with prior images. Without access to your prior mammography images, your final results may be delayed.