The ABCs of a mammogram

There is a lot of conflicting information these days when it comes to breast cancer and breast exams.
The ABCs of a mammogram
The ABCs of a mammogram.
Foto: Wikimedia Commons

There is a lot of conflicting information these days when it comes to breast cancer and breast exams. Many women are left wondering if they work, if they’re necessary, and at what age a woman should begin getting breast exams.

This is an X-ray of the breast that is performed by a machine that you stand in front of. The procedure itself involves an X-ray of very low radiation on each individual breast. The screening is done to detect any abnormalities or changes in the breast, specifically in the way of formations such as lumps or microcalcifications, which are tiny deposits of calcium that sometimes indicate the presence of breast cancer.

While you are standing in front of an X-ray machine, a technologist places one of your breasts on a clear plastic plate while another plastic plate presses your breast from above. This is done to flatten the breast while the X-ray is being taken. Two X-rays are taken of each breast, one from the top and one from the side. A specially trained doctor called a “radiologist” will review your mammogram results and report his or her findings to your primary doctor.

Yes. The earlier that cancer is detected, the better the chances for successful treatment and survival. Mammograms are not perfect exams, but they have proven effective in detecting the early stages of breast cancer and are the best tool currently available for detecting the early stages of breast cancer. Mammograms have detected cancer up to three years before the abnormalities could be felt by a hand examination. Keep in mind that these tests work best when there are previous tests to compare with, allowing your doctor to compare and look for changes since your last X-ray.

Most women 40 and older should think about getting X-ray breast exams on a regular basis; however, other doctors suggest that women 50 and older should opt for a mammogram every second year. Different women are at different risk levels when it comes to developing breast cancer.

If you have a family history of breast cancer, talk to your doctor about getting routine breast exams, regardless of your age. Work with your doctor to develop a screening plan that is right for you based on your risk level.

Therese Bevers, MD, medical director of Cancer Prevention at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, put it well when she told ABC News, “If there’s one thing women should take away from all this, it’s that no one disagrees with the fact that fewer women die from breast cancer because of mammograms.”