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Shawnee Mission Medical Center Health Blog

Mammograms: What you need to know

Posted by Laurie Healey on Sep 18, 2013 6:50:00 AM


A mammogram is a special type of breast examination performed by x-ray to determine whether a woman’s breasts display symptoms of breast cancer. Typically, most women can perform a breast self-exam, which is when the woman or a doctor feels around the outside of the breast for lumps and other abnormalities. However, compared to a breast self-exam, a mammogram offers a closer look at the inside of a woman’s anatomy.

Generally, women between the ages of 50 and 74 should undergo a mammogram every two years. Women under the age of 50 can consult with their doctors to determine when they should begin having mammograms and how often they should be screened.

Where to get a mammogram

Mammograms are typically performed at your physician’s office, but you can also get a mammogram at specialized breast clinics, mobile clinics, or radiology departments in hospitals. If your healthcare provider’s facility does not offer mammograms, ask for a referral or obtain a list of approved nearby mammography facilities that have been certified by the FDA.

How to prepare for a mammogram

In most cases, the facility you choose to perform your mammogram will provide you with special instructions prior to your visit. Here are some additional tips you can follow to ensure your mammogram will return efficient results.

  • If you have breast implants, inform the mammography facility that you have implants at the time you make your appointment. The facility may need to make arrangements to ensure that an experienced X-ray technician is on hand who knows how to work with breast implants.
  • Make an appointment during the week before your menstrual period to result in a less painful experience, and better, clearer x-ray pictures.
  • Avoid wearing cosmetics on your breasts or under your arms such as perfume, deodorant, or lotion, as these items could cause problems with the clarity of the mammogram pictures.
  • Avoid wearing a one-piece outfit, such as a dress or jumpsuit. During the mammogram, you will be required to take off the top half of your clothing for the X-ray.

What happens during a mammogram

During a mammogram, you will stand in front of an X-ray machine and place one of your breasts between an X-ray plate and a plastic plate. The machine will then flatten your breast as much as possible between the plates and take a top and bottom picture of the inside of your breast. During the procedure, you may feel slight pressure and a pinching sensation on your breast.

After the X-ray has finished taking pictures of your breast, the X-ray technician will repeat the entire process with your other breast. In most cases, a mammogram will take up to 20 minutes.

Different types of mammograms

Most women without any symptoms of breast cancer will usually receive a screening mammogram. A screening mammogram will detect lumps and tumors that are not initially felt during a breast self-exam.

A diagnostic mammogram is a type of mammogram performed after a lump or other symptom of breast cancer is detected. A diagnostic mammogram is very much like a screening mammogram, only it takes several minutes longer so X-ray technicians can take additional pictures of the inside of your breasts. In some cases, a diagnostic mammogram may be used with digital camera technology to better pinpoint problem areas in the breasts.

When problems are detected

If your mammogram screening detects signs or symptoms of cancer, your physician will most likely require you to undergo additional examinations and testing. You may have to return to the facility to undergo a diagnostic mammogram, during which additional pictures are taken of the inside of your breasts.

Your physician may also order an ultrasound, a biopsy, or magnetic resonance imaging, also known as an MRI. Although some of these procedures may sound scary, keep in mind that these additional tests will help your healthcare provider determine whether your symptoms are truly related to breast cancer.

The purpose of getting mammograms is to detect whether you have symptoms of breast cancer so you can take steps toward preventing and treating breast cancer. Mammograms can help save the lives of many women who were previously unaware that they were at risk for breast cancer.

Shawnee Mission Medical Center is the home of Kansas City’s first accredited breast center and offers mammograms, breast ultrasounds, biopsies, and more so women can be properly screened and treated for breast cancer. Contact Shawnee Mission Medical Center today to learn more about our Women’s Health services.

Topics: Women's Health

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