October marks Breast Cancer Awareness Month and many women globally may be preparing to go for their annual mammogram check-up.
Of course, for any woman, this is a very stressful experience. Since many women are anxious about having a mammogram, here are five things to know about mammograms.
Why is it important to have a mammogram?
Mammograms save lives. Breast cancer is the second highest cause of cancer deaths in women, primarily affecting females between the age of 40 and 60. Mammograms are the most effective method of detecting breast cancer early. The disease is easier to treat and cure in the early stages.
The main goal of a mammogram is to detect breast cancer before symptoms appear. A lump in the breast may be the first sign of breast cancer, but dimpling of the skin or a rash around the nipple as well as discharge are symptoms that should be looked out for. This is why women are recommended to perform regular breast self-examinations because even small changes in the colour or size of their nipples should be evaluated by a doctor.
As with any screening test, mammograms do have their limits. Still, getting regular mammograms increases the odds of finding breast cancer at an early stage.
How do you prepare for a mammogram?
When you decide to go for a mammogram, or if you have been advised by your doctor to go for a mammogram, you are taking an active step in your health and wellbeing. Remember, you are required to have a referring doctor (either your GP, gynae, or another specialist medical practitioner) when making the appointment for your mammogram.
To help ease the stress of going for your mammogram, Morton & Partners has created a “Meet your mammographer” page on their website. The website provides photographs of their dedicated mammographers at their different branches.
Upon your arrival, you will be asked to sign in and change into a gown. Your female mammographer will explain the procedure to you, and make you feel as comfortable as possible.
You will be asked a few questions, such as if you have an abscess or any kind of inflammation around the breast and are on antibiotics, it is better to wait for the breast to settle down before having a mammogram.
If this is your first mammogram, it will be referred to as your “baseline” mammogram and will be used as a reference for future mammograms. If you have previously had mammograms, bring your past records with you so the radiologist can refer to them when reviewing your mammogram X-ray.
What happens during a mammogram?
A mammogram is a type of low-dose X-ray of the breast. A plastic paddle will be placed over your breast during a mammogram. The machine then photographs your breasts from various angles and each breast is X-rayed separately.
A mammogram is also used to look for changes in the lymph nodes under the arm that are closest to the breast. The mammogram is interpreted by a radiologist, who will explain any abnormal findings during your visit.
If you have dense breast tissue, the radiologist may order an ultrasound as an additional imaging technique. Tomosynthesis is a 3-D mammogram that is the most recent advancement in mammography screening and can detect more cancers because it allows for more detail and less overlapping of breast tissue. Additional mammogram views may also be performed to interrogate a certain finding on the images.
Will you feel anything during the test?
Mammograms are a painless and risk-free method of screening for breast cancer. You may, however, feel some discomfort. Because your mammographer will be with you at all times, you can tell her if the pressure becomes too much.
How often should you have a mammogram?
Women over the age of 40 should get a mammogram every year unless their doctor tells them otherwise. With advances in screening methods, the screening will become more personalised in the future and each patient will be assessed according to their own risk profile.
Please contact your local radiology practice if you have any questions about your screening mammogram.