Mammography, or a mammogram, is a test that helps to detect breast cancer. This is a test that frightens many women, so they choose to just not test. In 2012, breast cancer accounted for nearly 25% of all cancers, so it is wise to go in and get your testing done- it may just save your life.
The Basic Process of Mammography
1. When you show up to the testing center, you will need to change your clothing. Most often, the clinic or hospital where the test is done will give you a gown or paper vest. This allows you to keep covered everywhere but on the breast that is being screened.
2. The technologist will bring you to the mammogram machine. The breast is placed between two plates. The top is just plastic, the bottom is the X-ray plate. The technologist will then compress the breast to get a better picture of the different layers of breast tissue. This may cause some mild to moderate discomfort. If it is extremely painful, the technologist can try to reposition you a bit. The machine only requires a few seconds to take the picture, though.
3. Most places use digital photography which sends the pictures to a computer for viewing. From here, your doctor can look over the pictures to see if there are any areas of concern. If there are, they will call you back for more tests and possibly a biopsy to sample the tissue. More commonly though, the doctor's office will call to tell you that there are no concerns and give instructions on when you should do another test.
There is a newer type of test called breast tomosynthesis or 3D mammography. These images are put together to make a 3-dimensional picture which gives a clearer picture of tissue, reduces the need for re-testing, and is suspected to detect more cancers. The reason more women aren't using this test on a regular basis is because insurance companies don't usually cover it and it exposes a person to more radiation.
The Basic Guidelines
Most doctors say to start getting mammograms at the age of 40, and get one every one to two years. The problem with these guidelines is that there is an increasing amount of women getting breast cancer before the age of 40, but weren't getting tested. The best guideline to follow is to do self-checks regularly and know your family history. If you ever find a lump, get tested immediately. If you have family members who have had breast cancer, you have a higher risk and should probably consider testing earlier. The closer the relative, the higher your risk. Talk to your doctor for more specific recommendations.Share