A mammography is a specific type of imaging that uses a low dose x-ray system to examine breasts. The mammogram is a screening tool to detect early breast cancer in women experiencing no symptoms and to detect and diagnose breast disease in women with symptoms such as lumps, pain, or nipple discharge. Early breast cancer detection is the KEY to a good prognosis and the most successful treatment possible.
The mammography images improve a physician’s ability to detect small tumors when cancers are small and women have more treatment options and a cure is more likely. The test also increases the detection of small abnormal tissue growths confined to the milk ducts. These early tumors cannot harm patients if they are removed at this early stage and mammography is the only proven method to reliably detect these tumors. No radiation remains in a patient’s body after an x-ray exam and x-rays don’t usually have any side effects in the diagnostic range. The standard approach has been to start regular mammograms at age 40. But in November of 2009 the United States Prevention Services Task Force created a shockwave with new guidelines recommending routine screening for women to begin at age 50 – a decade later.
This decision was due to the fact that in younger women the “harm” from getting a mammogram may outweigh the benefit. Those harms are frequently false-positive findings in women in their 40s, causing needless anxiety with additional imaging studies and biopsies. The “benefit” in this group is the number of deaths prevented by getting regular mammograms. It is estimated that it would take about 1,900 mammograms in women under 50 to save one life as opposed to about 1,300 screening in women over 50. For women 50 and older, the Task Force also recommends a change in frequency from a mammogram yearly to one every two to three years, then yearly after age 59. However, not all experts and organizations like the American Cancer Society, agree with the Task Force recommendations. Some still advise to begin getting regular mammograms at age 40.
There is a new advance in mammography – the digital mammography. This replaces x-ray film with solid-state detectors that convert x-rays into electrical signals and produces these images on a computer screen. The patient still goes through the normal mammogram procedure.
When getting a mammogram women should:
1. Schedule the test on a week after your menstrual cycle due to less breast tenderness at that time.
2. Do not wear deodorant, talcum powder, or lotion under your arms or on your breasts as this can appear as calcium spots on the mammogram.
3. Advise your primary care provider and radiologist of any problem you may be having in your breast before the test.
4. Know when the results will be available so you will know when you will be advised of the test findings.
Just remember that early detection is the KEY in breast cancer treatment and a good prognosis. Also, know that the mammogram is one of the best tools available. Contact your health provider if you have any question, or to schedule an appointment.
The Women’s Health Task Force meets the first Thursday of each month. The next meeting will be held Sept. 2 at Children’s Aid Society, 1008 S. Second Street in Clearfield and all interested persons are invited to attend.
Joan Kroell RNC, CRNP
Adagio Health, Clearfield