A mammogram is a special type of X-ray of the breasts. Mammograms can show tumors long before they are big enough for you or your health care provider to feel. They are recommended for women who have symptoms of breast cancer or who have a high risk of the disease. You and your health care provider should discuss when to start having mammograms and how often to get one. Mammograms are quick and easy. You stand in front of an X-ray machine. The person who takes the X-rays places your breast between two plastic plates. The plates press your breast and make it flat. This may be uncomfortable, but it helps get a clear picture. You will have an X-ray of each breast. A mammogram takes only a few seconds and it can help save your life. A mammogram is an x-ray picture of the breasts. It is used to find tumors and to help tell the difference between noncancerous and cancerous (malignant) disease.
How the Test is performed
You will be asked to undress from the waist up and will be given a gown to wear. Depending on the type of equipment used, you will sit or stand. One breast at a time is rested on a flat surface that contains the x-ray plate. A device called a compressor will be pressed firmly against the breast to help flatten out the breast tissue. The x-ray pictures are taken from several angles. You may be asked to hold your breath as each picture is taken. Sometimes you will be asked to come back at a later date for more mammogram images. This does not always mean you have breast cancer. Rather, the doctor may simply need to recheck an area that could not be clearly seen on the first test. Digital mammography is a newer technique that allows the x-ray image of the breast to be viewed and manipulated on a computer screen. It improves accuracy, but is not yet available everywhere.
How to Prepare for the Test
Do not wear deodorant, perfume, powders, or ointments under your arms or on your breasts on the day of the mammogram. These substances may hide the images. Remove all jewelry from your neck and chest area. Tell your health care provider and the radiologist if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.
How the Test Will Feel
The metal may feel cold. When the breast is pressed down, you may have some pain. However, this needs to be done to get good images. Why the Test is performed Mammography is performed to: Screen healthy women for signs of breast cancer Further evaluate an abnormal finding on a mammogram Monitor and follow a woman who has had an abnormal mammogram Evaluate a woman who has symptoms of a breast disease, such as a lump, nipple discharge, breast pain, dimpling of the skin on the breast, or retraction of the nipple. Screening mammograms are improving the detection of early breast cancer, when it is more likely to be curable. Some, but not all medical organizations recommend that women begin breast cancer screening at age 40 and have repeat mammograms every 1 to 2 years. All medical organizations recommend that women over age 50 have a screening mammogram every 1 to 2 years. Women with a mother or sister who had breast cancer should consider yearly mammograms earlier than the age at which their youngest family member was diagnosed.
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