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Breast Cancer and Mammograms

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What Happens During a Mammogram?

Registered mammography technologists perform the test. Most mammography technologists are women. A doctor specialized in interpreting imaging studies (radiologist) will interpret the X-rays.

You will be asked to stand in front of an X-ray machine. The mammography technologist will place your breast between two radiographic breast supports. The supports will be pressed together, gently flattening the breast. Compression is necessary to obtain the clearest possible picture with the least amount of radiation. You may feel some discomfort or slight pain from this pressure, but it will only last for a few seconds while the X-ray is being taken. Your cooperation for these few seconds is important to get a clear picture. If you feel that the pressure on your breast is too great, tell the technologist performing the exam. To minimize discomfort during compression, you may want to consider scheduling your appointment seven to 10 days after the start of your period, when your breast are least likely to be tender.

The breast will be imaged in several positions to enable the radiologist to see all breast tissue adequately. For a routine breast screening, two pictures are taken of each breast. This exam takes about 20 minutes. Many centers also do 3-D mammography.  This is similar to regular mammograms but many more pictures of the breast are taken at various angles to produce a 3-D picture for the radiologist to check.

After examining the digital images, the radiologist may ask the technologist to obtain additional images or a breast ultrasound for a more precise diagnosis. This is a routine measure.

What Happens After a Mammogram?

After a mammogram, you may experience temporary skin discoloration or mild aching as a result of the compression in the breast area. You may take aspirin or ibuprofen to relieve the discomfort. Generally, you will be able to resume your usual activities immediately.

The results of your mammogram will be given to your doctor, who will discuss with you what the test results could mean and what further tests might be recommended.

All mammography facilities are now required to send your results by mail to you within 30 days. You will be contacted within five working days if there is a problem with your mammogram. If you do not hear about your test findings within 10 working days, don't assume your results are normal -- call your doctor to make sure.

According to the American Cancer Society, approximately one to two mammograms out of every 1,000 lead to a diagnosis of cancer. Approximately 10% of women will require additional mammography. Don't be alarmed if this happens to you. Only 8% to 10% of those women will need a biopsy, and 80% of those biopsies won't be cancer. Those odds may improve with more widespread use of three-dimensional mammography.

 

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