Mammograms - What You Need to Know
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Published on October 19, 2019

Mammograms - What You Should Know

Do you know when you should have your first screening mammogram? While recommendations from the United States Preventative Task Force and the American Cancer Society (ACS) are intended to help individuals make informed decisions about their healthcare, the difference in the guidelines related to a screening mammogram may leave you confused. Jill Saunders, MD, Radiologist and Asma Latif, MD, Medical Oncologist and Director of Breast Oncology at Sturdy Memorial Hospital provide insight to help you determine what's best for your breast health.

What is a screening mammogram and why is it important?

A screening mammogram is an x-ray exam of the breasts which is used to detect breast cancer that may be too small to be felt as a lump during a self-exam. The goal of this screening is to detect unsuspected breast cancer at an early and treatable stage.

When should I start screening mammograms?

The ACS recommends for all women to start having screening mammograms at age 45, noting that women should have the choice to begin their annual mammograms at the age of 40. Many other medical groups recommend beginning annual screening mammograms at age 40, although they do encourage shared decision-making based on personal values and preferences. As a breast oncologist, I encourage women to begin their screening mammograms at the age of 40 if they are considered to be normal risk, shares Latif. As mentioned above, mammograms can help detect breast cancer early, which is when treatment is most successful.

A screening mammogram is important as it helps to develop a baseline image of your breasts, explains Saunders. When you return each year for your annual mammogram we are looking for changes from that baseline image. We're also looking for masses as well as calcifications found in the breast.

What is a 3D mammogram?

3D mammography, also called breast tomosynthesis is an FDA approved advanced technology that creates a 3-dimensional image of the breast by taking multiple images. Traditional mammography obtains just one single image. With the multiple pictures from a 3D mammogram, radiologists get a clearer picture of the breast.

At Sturdy, we've been offering 3D mammography to our patients since 2015. This advanced technology makes it easier for our doctors to detect cancer and allows for them to catch more cancers versus the images produced from a traditional 2D image, while also reducing the risk of a false positive. At this time, all of our mammography equipment has 3D mammography capability.

What should I expect during my mammogram?

If you've never had a mammogram, you may be a little anxious. Knowing what to expect may put you at ease.

On the day of your mammogram, you'll want to wear a two piece outfit and refrain from using your beauty products no deodorant, powder, perfume, creams, and ointments. When you arrive, you'll check in and will be provided with a robe of sorts to put on. When you're called in, the mammographer will have you walk up to the machine. Your breasts will then be compressed by two paddles.You may find this to be uncomfortable, but this compression only lasts a short period and is what helps provide a clearer image of the breast.

What happens next?

A radiologist will read your mammogram results, if everything looks good you will just return the following year for your annual mammogram. If anything was detected which was considered abnormal, you may be called back for additional imaging. If you are called back, don't panic, says Saunders. A call back does not mean you have cancer, it just means that there is an area of concern that we want to look at a bit closer. This may mean more x-ray images, or an ultrasound to get a better look. According the ACS, fewer than 1 in 10 women who receive a call back for more tests are found to have cancer.

While mammograms are an important screening tool and aid in the detection of breast cancer, they do not detect every type of breast cancer, explains Latif. Because of this, it's important that you understand what is normal for your breasts. It doesn't matter whether you're male or female, if you notice any changes in your breasts, bring it to the attention of your doctor. This could include swelling in the breast or chest area, breast or nipple pain, red, dry, flaking or thickened skin on the breast or nipple, nipple discharge, or swollen lymph nodes.

With one in eight women being diagnosed with breast cancer during their lifetime, and an estimated 2,670 new cases of breast cancer in men diagnosed in 2019, being proactive about your breast health is a critical step in your overall health.

We encourage to you to take part in your preventative health screenings and are happy to help you schedule your mammogram. Please contact our mammography department at 508-236-7707. We offer evening and Saturday hours for your convenience.

Sturdy Memorial Hospital is committed to the prevention and early detection of breast cancer. Our breast cancer program provides you with a full range of services right here in the community. From preventative screenings, diagnostic testing, nurse navigation, and psychosocial support to the full spectrum of treatment including chemotherapy, immunotherapy, hormone therapy, surgery, as well as radiation oncology. Our team of compassionate, expert care providers allows you to stay close to home while getting the same level of care you would find in the larger, tertiary hospitals.

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