A mammogram is a screening test for breast cancer which uses special X-ray images to detect abnormal growths or changes in breast tissue.
Using a digital X-ray machine made especially for breast tissue, a technologist compresses the breast and takes pictures from at least two different angles, creating a set of images for each of your breasts. This set of images is called a mammogram. Breast tissue appears white and opaque and fatty tissue appears darker and translucent. 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.
Not all women experience symptoms prior to or following menopause, which is defined as the time when a woman has naturally ceased having menstrual periods for one year. If menopausal symptoms occur, they may include hot flashes, night sweats, pain during intercourse due to vaginal dryness, and increased anxiety or irritability.
The mammogram is used to look for lumps or other findings that are too small to be felt during a physical exam. A mammogram can also help your doctor determine the next step if a lump, growth, or change in your breast is found.
Why Do I Need a Mammogram?
The risk of breast cancer increases with age. That is why it is very important for all menopausal women to get regular mammograms.
Mammography is your best defense against breast cancer because it can detect the disease in its early stages, before it can be felt during a breast exam. Research has shown that mammography can increase breast cancer survival.
How Often Should a Menopausal Woman Get Mammograms?
There's disagreement among breast cancer experts about when you should have your first mammogram.
The American Cancer Society recommends yearly screening mammograms starting at age 40 and continuing for as long as you are in good health. However, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) does not recommend routine screening for women in their 40s. For women between the ages of 50 and 74, USPSTF experts say, women should have mammograms every two years. The task force does not recommend screening at all after age 74. They say that beginning screening before the age of 50 should be an individual decision based on your personal needs and risks.
Whether you need a mammogram is a personal decision between you and your doctor. If you're over 40, talk to your doctor about when you should begin mammogram screening. Some doctors recommend starting earlier than age 40. This decision depends on your individual risk factors.