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Mammography is a simple X-ray examination of the breasts. The images are viewed by a radiologist. Most medical experts agree that successful treatment of breast cancer is often linked to early diagnosis. The value of mammography lies in its ability to detect cancer in the breast when it is still small – often too small to be felt or detected in any other way. Current guidelines from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the American Cancer Society(ACS), The American Medical Association (AMA) and the American College of Radiology (ACR) recommend screening mammography every year for women, beginning at age 40.

How should I prepare for my mammogram?

Before scheduling a mammogram, we recommend that you discuss any new findings or problems in your breasts with your doctor. Sometimes it is best to schedule your mammogram one week following your period if your breasts are tender during your period. Always inform the technologist if there is any possibility that you could be pregnant. Do not wear deodorant, talcum powder or lotion under your arms or on your breasts on the day of the exam. These can appear on the mammogram film as tiny spots of calcium.
Describe any breast symptoms or problems to the technologist who is performing the exam.

What should I expect during my exam?

You will be asked to undress from the waist up and put on a gown. A specially qualified radiologic technologist – called a mammographer – will perform your exam. The breast is placed on a special platform and compressed with a paddle.

The compression is extremely important for several reasons:

•Compression evens out the breast thickness so that all of the tissue can be visualized.
•Compression spreads out the tissue so that small abnormalities won’t be covered by overlying breast tissue .
•Compression allows the use of a lower x-ray dose since thinner amount of breast tissue is being imaged .
•Compression helps to hold the breast still to eliminate blurring of the image caused by motion.

The mammographer will go behind a glass shield while making the x-ray exposure, which will send a beam of x-rays through the breast to the film. You will be asked to change positions slightly between images. The routine views are a top-to-bottom view and a side view. Both breasts will be x-rayed, since it is necessary to compare one with the other. You will be asked to wait in the x-ray room while the mammographer develops your films and shows them to the doctor. The entire exam should take approximately 30 minutes.

What are the benefits and risks of mammography?

Imaging of the breast improves a physician’s ability to detect small tumors. When cancers are small, the woman has more treatment options and a cure is more likely. There is a small amount of radiation received from a mammogram. The amount of radiation is about equivalent to what you would receive in your normal daily activities in about 3 months. The Federal mammography guidelines require that each unit be checked by a medical physicist each year to insure that the unit operates correctly.

Breast Health Facts

  • Mammography screening is the best tool for detecting breast cancer at an early, treatable stage in women age 40 and older. A screening mammogram is a simple, low-dose X-ray procedure that can reveal breast cancer at an early stage, up to two years before it is large enough to be felt. (National Breast Cancer Coalition and the Komen Foundation)
  • All women are at risk for breast cancer. Of the women who develop breast cancer, 90-95% do not have a family history of the disease. (National Breast Cancer Coalition and the Komen Foundation)
  • Factors that increase a woman’s risk of breast cancer include: older age, earlier age at first period, later age at menopause, nulliparity (never having carried a pregnancy), later age at first full-term pregnancy, daily alcohol consumption, use of hormonal replacement therapy, post-menopausal obesity, ionizing radiation, genetic factors, and family history of breast or ovarian cancer. Factors that decrease a woman’s risk of breast cancer include: breast-feeding and physical activity (exercise). (National Breast Cancer Coalition and the Komen Foundation)
  • About 1 in 8 women in the United States will develop breast cancer over the course of her lifetime. (American Cancer Society)
  • The 5-year survival rate for all women diagnosed with breast cancer is 89%. (Susan G. Komen for the Cure)
  •  The best way to find breast cancer early is to get screened, such as by having a mammogram.  (Susan G. Komen for the Cure)
  •  There are 230,480 estimated new cases of breast cancer in 2011 in the United States. (American Cancer Society)
  •  Nearly 40,000 deaths will occur from breast cancer in 2011 in the United States.  (American Cancer Society)
  •  For women in the United States, breast cancer death rate are higher than any other cancer, besides lung cancer. (American Cancer Society)
  •  As of 2010, there were more than 2.5 million breast cancer survivors in the US (American Cancer Society)
  •  A woman’s risk of breast cancer approximately doubles if she has a first-degree relative (mother, sister, daughter) that has been diagnosed with breast cancer.  (American Cancer Society)
  •  The most significant risk factors for breast cancer are gender (being a woman) and age (growing older). (American Cancer Society)
  •  The current methods of treatment for breast cancer in use in the United States are surgery (mastectomy and lumpectomy), radiation, chemotherapy, hormonal therapy and targeted therapy.  (American Cancer Society)