A mammogram is a breast x-ray that is used to detect and diagnose breast abnormalities, such as cancer in women. When you go for a mammogram screening you will remove your clothes and your breast will be placed between two clear plates to flatten them, so that a clear image of the tissue can be produced. Although the procedure can be slightly uncomfortable, the compression generally only lasts for a few seconds. The complete screening procedure takes around twenty minutes,
The x-ray machine produces a black and white image of your breast tissue, including milk ducts, lymphs, lymph nodes and any abnormal cells that may be present. The image is then analyzed by a doctor trained to interpret x-ray images. The doctor will be checking for specific changes in your mammogram, such as:
· Calcifications—these are minute mineral deposits that may occur within the breast tissue. They will appear as tiny white dots on the image. There are two types of calcifications and they may or may not be caused by cancer.
o Macrocalcifications—these are somewhat larger deposits of calcium that are often caused by changes such as previous injuries, aging and inflammation. These occur in about 50 percent of women over 50 and are benign.
o Microcalcifications—these are minute calcium deposits within the breast tissue, they may be solitary or grouped together. Though these may be cause for concern, they are not necessarily an indication of cancer, though if they look suspicious, a biopsy will be performed.
· A mass—this is an abnormal area that can be caused by several things including, cysts and solid tumors that benign. Cysts do not usually require a biopsy, though a solid mass may need one to rule out cancer.
By itself a mammogram is unable to ascertain whether an abnormal change in the breast indicated cancer. For confirmation, your doctor will recommend a biopsy. This is a minimally invasive procedure that involves the removal of a small amount of tissue from the breast.
Things to Remember When Going for a Mammogram
· Choose to have your mammogram at a clinic that specializes in mammography.
· All facilities offering mammography are required to have and FDA approval certificate. If this is not visible, ask to see it.
· Try to go to the same clinic each time so that your new mammograms can be easily compared to your previous ones.
· If this si your first mammogram, take a list with you including any breast injuries, treatments, implants or other procedures you have experienced.
· Whenever possible, make your mammogram appointment a few days after your menstrual period so that your breasts are not tender or swollen.
· Where comfortable close that make it easier for you to remove just your shirt for the examination.
· If you do not hear from your physician with your mammogram results within ten days, call the facility.
Corinna Underwood is a health writer based in Georgia. She specializes in fertility, women’s health and sperm bank research.