Breast Health Mammograms

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Mammography is an X-ray study used to image the breasts. The goal of routinely performing mammograms is to help doctors find breast cancer when it is very small and at an early stage so treatment is more likely to succeed. Mammograms can also assist with diagnosing lumps that are felt by the patient or healthcare provider. The results are read by a specially trained doctor in radiology. Most lumps found in the breast are benign, meaning not cancerous. Other imaging tests, such as ultrasound and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and/or tissue sampling with needle aspiration or biopsy may be recommended in addition to the mammogram to help in making a diagnosis.

On average, about 1 in 8 women will get breast cancer during their lives. The risk of breast cancer increases with age and most cases occur in women who are post-menopausal. Most women who get breast cancer have no risk factors except age. The following risk factors may increase a woman’s chance of getting breast cancer: breast cancer in her mother, sister or daughter; breast and ovarian cancer hereditary syndrome (BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutation); personal history of breast cancer; no full-term pregnancies; menstruation beginning before 12 years old; menopause occurring after 55 years old; and never breastfeeding a child.

According to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) recommendations, women aged 40–49 years should have a mammogram done every 1–2 years. Women aged 50 years and older should have it done every year. If you have certain risk factors, your doctor may suggest you have the test at a younger age. You also may need mammography if you have breast lumps, changes in the skin of the breast or nipple, or nipple discharge. If you experience any of these, please have an evaluation by your healthcare provider.

The day you have the test done, you should not wear powders, lotions, or deodorants. These products can affect the quality of the films, making them hard for the radiologist to read. The pressure placed on the breasts during the exam may make the breasts hurt for a short time after the procedure. If you have breast implants, let the person who is giving the test know because there is some risk that the implant may burst during the test and extra care should be taken when the breast is compressed.

The benefits of mammogram greatly outweigh the minimal risks. The risks of mammography include discomfort during and immediately after the exam, exposure to radiation, rupture of breast implants, and the possibility that a cancer that is present is not detected. The radiation exposure is very low dose, much lower than the natural level of radiation received from the environment during a 1-year period.