June 15, 2021
5 min. read

Mammogram Screening. Is It Time for Your Preventative Screening?


Breast cancer is one of the most common cancers diagnosed in women in the United States, which is why mammogram screening is so important. Although it is more common in women, men may be diagnosed with it as well. Just a few decades ago, breast cancer used to be a death sentence for most patients. However, in recent years improved awareness and early treatment have allowed more women to survive this form of cancer.

Mammograms have become a cornerstone of women’s preventative medicine. But still in one survey from 2018, only around 65% of women had a mammogram in the last two years. That number may continue to drop as more women have lost access to health insurance.

If you suspect that you may have breast cancer, you should see your doctor immediately. Typical symptoms include lumps in the breast, changes in the appearance of the breasts, or peeling of the areola, the pigmented area surrounding the nipple. Your physician will schedule a mammogram for screening to determine if the suspicious lumps are cancer. What exactly is a mammogram, and how does it help with breast cancer survival?


What is a Mammogram?

A mammogram is the most common way that doctors screen for early signs of breast cancer. An x-ray machine takes a radiographic image of the breast, checking for suspicious lumps of tissue. A doctor specializing in reading mammograms will evaluate the image to determine if the tissues are cancerous.

If you or your doctor feels a lump in your breast area, they will send you to a mammographer to have an exam performed. The mammographer will examine the suspicious area and other parts of the breast, checking for lumps. In some cases, the lumps present in the breast area may be tumors or other abnormalities. Therefore, a doctor will have to perform more tests after an abnormal reading to ensure no cancer is present.

patient provider

Most of the time, what appears on an image is benign breast conditions. Doctors refer to these breast abnormalities as hyperplasia or fibroadenoma. Both of these types of abnormalities are generally harmless. However, hyperplasia, if it is atypical, may increase the risk of breast cancer. In most cases, these abnormalities won’t need treatment. But if it causes pain and discomfort, your physician may recommend treatment.

If you need further testing, your doctor will follow up and let you know. This doesn’t mean that they have detected cancer, however. Fewer than 1 in 10 women called back after the first exam have breast cancer. The follow-up test will allow the doctor to determine the next course of action. This action could be a biopsy to determine if the suspicious area is breast cancer. Or it could be to inform you that the abnormality is not an issue.

Why are mammogram screenings important?

You or your doctor may not feel lumps in your breast, but it is still essential to have the exam done. The purpose of mammography screenings is to detect breast cancer early to get treatment as soon as possible. There are two forms of mammography exams. One is a screening mammography to ensure that you don’t have breast cancer or any other abnormalities growing in the breast tissues.

mammogram screening

The other is a diagnostic mammography. With this test, the doctor is aware that the abnormality is present, and uses this type of test to investigate the presence of breast cancer further.

Having mammograms done regularly is critical. Although these tests are primarily to detect breast cancer, they may find other abnormalities that can cause the disease. Whether the tests discover breast cancer or abnormalities, early detection is crucial to better, more effective treatment options.

When should I get a mammogram screening?

Any woman at any age can get a mammogram screening, particularly if she feels lumps growing in the breast tissue. However, your doctor will recommend that you start getting routine mammograms beginning at age 40 because women in this age group and up are more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer.

Most doctors usually recommend that women have the option to get mammogram exams done every year starting at 40 years old. Women between the ages of 45 and 54 may be considered a higher risk group and should have one done every year. Once a woman turns 55, she can opt to have one done every two years or continue with annual screenings. Sometimes doctors may recommend that women with a family history of breast cancer start screening before age 40, so it’s best to consult with your doctor about when to begin mammogram screenings and how often.

Where can I get a mammogram?

After seeing your physician, if the doctor feels an unusual lump in your breast tissues, or you are over the age of 40, they will make the recommendation to have a mammogram done. Your doctor should send you to a facility certified by the Food and Drug Administration to ensure that the facility meets specific standards.

However, if you prefer to choose a facility on your own, you can contact the National Cancer Institute for mammogram locations. If you are 40 years of age or older, your medical insurance should cover the cost of a mammogram. The Affordable Care Act women’s preventive health screenings like mammograms must be covered fully with no copay charged. The National Cancer Institute can also help you find a center that provides you with low or no-cost mammograms if you’re not over 40 or uninsured.

mammogram process

How do mammograms work?

Is it time for you to get a screening mammography done? Having a screening done can be scary, especially if breast cancer runs in your family. However, it is best to be aware of any problems that exist so that you can address them before they become cancerous. Being proactive greatly helps outcomes.

Before your visit, you should not put on any deodorant, lotions, or perfumes to minimize errors on the test. The mammographer will have you undress from the waist up and put on a gown. You will then stand or sit at the x-ray machine.

You can expect to feel a bit of pressure as your breasts will be compressed between two plates to check the breast tissues. The mammographer will then take a photo of your breasts. Some mammographers use a 3D mammogram in which each breast is compressed and imaged separately. On average, the process usually takes about 30 minutes.

Breast cancer is a common form of cancer that is more treatable the early it is detected. Maintaining annual mammogram screenings means breast cancer can be caught earlier in its most treatable forms. Keep in mind that if you or your doctor finds a lump in your breast, this doesn’t mean that it is cancer. Your doctor will perform numerous tests, including a second mammogram screening, to determine whether it is breast cancer. In most cases, it is not breast cancer. But if it is, early detection is the best way to treat it.

References Breast cancer Mammogram Follow-up after an Abnormal Mammogram

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