A mammogram is a breast examination test that uses low energy X-rays to screen and diagnose breast cancer. With the exam, cancer cells can be detected three years before any visible symptoms. Women between the ages of 40 and 44 can decide how regularly they should have breast cancer screening through a mammography, but those between 45 and 54 should have it annually.
Those above 55 years can choose to have the screening every two years. Mammograms are not painful for most people, although the testing equipment’s pressure on the breasts can cause discomfort. If you find the procedure uncomfortable, over the counter pain medication taken just before the exam can ease the pain. Cancer screening, which leads to early detection, is crucial as it’s the only sure defense against breast cancer. There are at least 40 million mammograms conducted yearly in the United States but don’t worry, not all of them lead to cancer detection. Only 3 or 4 positive cases are recorded in 1,000 tests.
A mammogram does not actually detect cancer cells but highlights abnormalities inside the breasts. Further tests are needed to determine whether the irregularities are due to cancer or other illnesses.
Types of Mammograms
There is conventional mammography that uses low energy X-rays for breast examination. A digital test replaces the traditional X-ray film with a digital one that records images that can later be viewed on a computer or printed.
3D mammography, the latest technology in the field, gives better imaging making it easier to detect and interpret masses and tissues in the breast. The 3D imaging presents details in a layered format giving more accurate interpretations.
How Do You Prepare for a Mammogram?
Besides getting psychologically prepared for the test, it would be best to prepare in advance to avoid setbacks. Your first examination may be scary and confusing, but the process is manageable when you have the right information.
Get the Right Service Provider
Getting a qualified radiologist is the most crucial part of the breast examination. If possible, get a facility that specializes in mammography and carries many tests every day. You can check the facility’s reputation and even talk to the doctors before the test to know what is required of you. It’s also essential to work with an FDA-approved facility that assures you they meet the specified medical standards.
Use the Same Facility if Possible
It’s more convenient to have the same facility conduct the screening every year. It makes it easy to compare with past mammography. If it’s your first time at the facility, bring along all past breast exam results, dates when they were taken, and let the doctor know if you have ever had any breast treatments.
Choose a Suitable Time
A week before your period is not the best time to have the screening. Your breasts may be swollen and tender. It’s best to choose a time when the breasts feel more natural, and you are in a better state of mind. The most convenient time is not when you are on your period but a week after. If you are pregnant, it’s essential to inform the doctor or the radiologist before the exam.
You may have to schedule an appointment for the procedure, although some facilities offer walk-in services. Call the facility to book the consultation rather than make a physical visit. This is especially important through the COVID-19 era, where limited physical contact is encouraged. If it’s your first time to have the test, ask the doctor as many questions as it takes to make you feel at ease. It’s also essential to understand how much the procedure will cost and whether your insurance will cover the full cost.
What Happens on the Screening Day?
You will have to remove clothes on your upper body before the exam so wear a two-piece outfit. Having a skirt or pants on and a blouse on top makes it easier to pull clothes off during the procedure. You will only need to remove the blouse and bra but remain with the skirt or pants. Also, don’t wear jewelry such as necklaces because you will have to remove them too. However, if you have a one-piece outfit, the doctor may offer you a gown to wear before the exam.
During the examination, you and the radiographer may be the only people in the room. He will position the breasts for the exam by flattening then placing them on the machine’s plate. The plastic upper part of the device will be lowered to compress the breasts for a few seconds before taking the images. This process may be repeated until the technician is satisfied with the images.
The compression takes a few seconds at a time, but the whole process may extend for up to 20 minutes. Compressing the breasts may cause pain or discomfort, but if it’s too painful, inform the radiographer. Usually, two different views of the same breast are needed, but more photos may be required if you have implants or large breasts.
Should You Take a Shower Before the Exam?
It’s okay to take a shower before the mammography, but you shouldn’t use lotion, deodorants, sprays, or any beauty creams on your chest or armpits. Some of the products used on the body can appear as white spots in the X-ray results, meaning that it will make it harder to interpret the test results. However, you can put on the lotion, cream, or deodorant after the exam.
Can You Drink Coffee Before the Mammogram?
A week before the test, you shouldn’t take coffee or any other caffeinated drink, tea, or soft drinks. Caffeine can cause breast tenderness and lumpiness, which may cause discomfort during the exam. You should also avoid, if possible, any drugs that contain caffeine, such as some over the counter pain medications. Chocolate, too, should be avoided. However, taking coffee or caffeinated products will not affect the results but will only lead to discomfort to those who may be sensitive to the product.
Can You Take Medication Before the Test?
If you are on any prescriptions regardless of your condition, you can safely continue taking them even on the mammogram day. You can also drink and eat as usual because it will not affect the results of the test. However, it’s crucial to inform the radiologist or your doctor if any factors may put you at risk of getting cancer. Key concerns should be a family history of cancer patients, changes in the breasts, hormonal therapy, or medical history.
It’s also essential for the radiologist to know if you are breastfeeding. If you have any concerns about the breast size, shape, or color, let him know as well. Other considerations may be discharge from the nipples, but you are not breastfeeding, unusual tenderness, lumps, discomfort, or pain. Even when the concerns feel trivial, it’s essential to express them for a more comprehensive exam.
How Do You Prepare for a Diagnostic Mammogram?
When you have a screening mammogram but unusual growths or other abnormalities are detected, you may need a diagnostic mammogram. Additionally, if you have nipple discharge, pain, lumps, change in breast size, or color, a doctor may suggest a diagnostic mammogram without going through the screening process.
As scary as a diagnostic test may sound, not all results are biopsied. Out of the women who have screening mammography, less than 10% are recalled for a diagnostic mammogram. Out of that number, only about 10% are biopsied.
You may need to prepare the same way you did for the screening test but this time around, talk to the doctor to understand why there are concerns and the need for more tests. You may be required to take with you the test results from previous exams. A screening mammography test results may take up to two weeks. The diagnostic results may take less or more time depending on the urgency, whether more tests are required and if any comparisons need to be made with the previous images. The test targets areas on the breasts where abnormalities have been detected.
Should You Have a Mammogram?
Every woman above the age of 40 should schedule regular mammograms, because early detection is the only way to fight cancer. Even when you are healthy or have not detected any unusual lumps or changes on the breasts, it’s crucial to have the test.
Fear of pain or discomfort should not stop you from having the exam, because the benefits far outweigh the discomfort. Also, some women fear getting exposed to radiation that may lead to cancer. Advancements in technology used during the tests ensure that patients are exposed to minimal amounts of radiation.
Key to note is that mammograms are not just for older women, but even men, especially if they notice unusual growths or pain on the breasts. Young women are also encouraged to have the tests too; therefore, create time for a mammography. It is an easy and fast exam whose rewards are worth the time.