How Does a Mammogram Work?
Mammograms are a proactive way to check for changes in breast tissue that may signify breast cancer. Mammograms are breast x-rays that are taken of each breast, with two different angles of images taken for each breast. Because these are very low-dose x-rays, it’s necessary for the breast tissue to be flattened as much as possible so clear images can be captured.
What to Expect
If you’ve never had a mammogram, you may be wondering what to expect. Before the x-ray process, you will remove your shirt and bra so the technician has access to your breasts. In order to flatten the breast tissue, a technician will position your breast onto the machine plate. Then the technician will lower a plastic plate onto the top of your breast so an image can be quickly taken while your breast is as flat as possible. You will hold your breath while the image is snapped. While this can be a bit uncomfortable, it only takes a few seconds to get each image.
As mentioned earlier, two images will be captured of each breast from different angles. In some cases, additional images may need to be captured if you have very large breasts or have breast implants. (Make sure you tell your doctor and the technician if you have breast implants.) If there are any concerns about your breast tissue – either because you have a history of breast cancer or because something appeared on a previous mammogram – a diagnostic mammogram may be ordered. This allows the radiologist (the person who reviews the mammogram results) to dive deeper into areas of suspicion.
The Radiologist Role
Radiologists study the mammogram images to look for abnormalities such as:
- Calcifications: small or large calcium deposits in the breast tissue that may or may not signify breast cancer
- Masses: fluid-filled areas called cysts or a solid mass that may or may not signify breast cancer
- Density: if your breasts are very dense, you may be at a higher risk of developing breast cancer
Breast ultrasounds and biopsies may also be recommended in addition to mammograms to allow for better analysis of cysts or other breast abnormalities.
As with any medical test, a mammogram report will not be an absolute guarantee that you have healthy breasts – or breast cancer. There can be false negative and false positive results. One way to stay proactive about protecting your health is by having mammograms regularly, according to your doctor’s recommendation. By comparing past mammogram results with each new mammogram report, it will become easier for radiologists to identify changes in breast tissue and possibly diagnose breast cancer earlier.
The American Cancer Society recommends the following mammogram screening schedule for women:
- Age 45-54: yearly mammograms
- Age 55 and older: every two years or every year
Most women don’t enjoy getting mammograms, but this is one of those screenings that could be life-saving. If you need to get a mammogram in Spartanburg, SC, contact the team at Westgate Family Physicians. We can help you establish a mammogram schedule and keep your results on file. If your radiologist requests additional analysis of your breast tissue, we also perform breast ultrasounds in Spartanburg. Please call (864) 574-0070 or click here to schedule an appointment.