Mammography is an X-ray technique used to study the breast and is used to locate any signs of breast cancer. It’s important to catch breast cancer and begin treatment as soon as possible in order for the treatment to be completely successful. Research shows that about 1 in 8 women will get breast cancer during their lives. This is more common in women who are past menopause and the risk increases as you continue to age. By the time you reach forty, mammography should be a regular part of your health care.
The mammography passes low doses of X-rays through the breasts. It helps detect any growths that are small or lie deep in the breast tissue. Sometimes these growths are benign (not cancer), but others may be malignant (cancer). Mammography is a good way to find cancerous growths before they are large enough to be felt. When cancer is found in this early stage, it is easier to treat. Caught early enough, breast cancer often can be cured. There are self-exams that can also be done at home and your gynecologist will be glad to show you these or answer any questions.
There are some risk factors you can be aware of that may increase your risk of breast cancer:
- Certain genes (BRCA1 and BRCA2) passed on from her parents Breast cancer in her mother, daughter, or sister
- No term pregnancies or pregnancy later in life (age 30 years or older)
- Early menstruation (younger than age 12 years)
- Late menopause (age 55 years or older)
- Never breastfed a child
- These factors also may increase the risk of breast cancer for some women:
- Personal history of cancer of the breast, endometrium, ovary, or colon
- Postmenopausal obesity
- Alcohol intake
- Recent hormone therapy
- Recent use of birth control pills
- Tall stature
- Jewish heritage
Talk with your gynecologist at the Woman’s Clinic about any risk factors you have or if you notice any of these physical signs:
- Unexplained lump or thickening in the breast or in the armpit
- Puckers, dimples, redness, or other changes in the skin of the breast
- Discharge or bleeding that comes from the nipple
- A recent change in the nipple, such as a retracted nipple (a nipple that has pulled inward)
Make sure to avoid wearing any powders, lotions, or deodorants. These products will show up on the X-ray films and can make it difficult for the radiologist to read the results. The procedure works by having you stand or sit in front of the X-ray machine. Two smooth, flat plastic or glass plates will be placed around one of your breasts. You will briefly feel pressure on your breast. The plates will flatten your breast as much as possible so that the most tissue can be viewed with the least radiation. After the first X-ray, the plates may be removed so that the breast can be X-rayed from one or more other positions. This can cause some brief pain and you may feel some aching in the breasts afterwards, this should go away shortly. If you still menstruate, you may want to have the test done in the week right after your period. The breasts often are less tender at this time.
If you have breast implants, tell your doctor. You also should mention your implants to the person who is giving the test. Breast implants can make it more difficult to see certain parts of the breast tissue. There is some risk that the implant may burst during the test. Therefore, extra care should be taken when the breast is compressed.
Some types of cancer cannot be seen on a mammogram. Even lumps that can be felt may not show up. The combination of mammography, regular breast exams by your doctor, and self-exam may give the best results. If you feel a lump during a breast self-exam, see your doctor.
Your gynecologist will be able to talk with you about the results of your mammography. Most lumps found in the breast are benign—not cancer. In addition to self-exams there are other tests that can be done in order. Talk with your gynecologist about any questions or concerns you may have.