Menopause and Mammograms
What Happens During a Mammogram?
Registered technologists who are certified in mammography will perform your mammogram.
You will be asked to stand in front of an X-ray machine. A technologist will place your breast on an X-ray plate. A clear plastic paddle will gently compress your breast until taut. Compression is necessary to obtain the clearest possible picture with the least amount of radiation. 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.
If you feel some discomfort from this pressure, it will only last for a few seconds while the X-ray is being taken. 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 breasts are least likely to be tender.
The breast will be imaged in several positions to enable the radiologist to visualize all breast tissue adequately. For a routine breast screening, two pictures are taken of each breast. The exam takes about 20 minutes.
Board-certified radiologists, or doctors who specialize in interpreting imaging studies, examine the X-rays. After examining the images, the radiologist may ask the technologist to obtain additional images or a breast ultrasound for a more precise diagnosis. This is often just a routine measure.
What Happens After a Mammogram?
If you feel any discomfort after the mammogram, ask your doctor if you can take aspirin or ibuprofen to relieve it. 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.
If you do not receive your results within two weeks, do not assume the results are normal. Contact your doctor and the mammogram facility to get confirmation of the results.
According to the American Cancer Society, only two to four mammograms out of every 1,000 lead to a diagnosis of cancer. Approximately 10% of women will require additional imaging, such as additional views or ultrasound. Don't be alarmed if this happens to you. Only 8% to 10% of those women will need a breast biopsy (a sample of breast tissue is taken to evaluate for irregularities), and 80% of those biopsies will not show evidence of cancer. Those odds may improve with more widespread use of three-dimensional mammography.
Are There Other Tests for Breast Cancer Besides Mammograms?
This is another area where the experts do not agree. The USPSTF recommends against self breast exams. The American Cancer Society (ACS), however, states that it should be an option for women starting in their 20s. The ACS also states that women in their 20s and 30s should get a clinical breast exam with their doctor at least every three years, and annually after the age of 40. The USPSTF does not feel that there is enough evidence to make a recommendation regarding clinical breast exam in women age 40 or older.