Dispelling The Myths Of Mammography
October is Breast Health Awareness Month. The best known tool to fight breast cancer is the mammogram. In the past, mammography has had quite a stigma attached to it, along with several myths about who should have a mammogram and what it’s like to have one taken. The following will hopefully dispel some of the negative beliefs associated with mammography.
Mammography is a simple, safe radiographic (X-ray) examination of the breast. The word “mammography” comes from the Latin word meaning breast and “graph” meaning a drawing. The examination produces radiographic pictures called mammograms.
Why Do I Need A Mammogram?
Mammograms show slight changes in breast tissue. They reveal both harmless and cancerous growths even when these growths are too small to be felt by a woman or her physician. The great majority of lumps turn out to be harmless.
When cancer is present, mammography can save lives through early detection. For all women, mammography is the best way to screen for breast cancer and detect a cancer the size of a grain of salt, long before it can be felt by hand. This early detection is important because small tumors are generally easier to treat and early removal increases the odds that the cancer has not spread to other parts of the body.
A mammogram should be performed at an accredited mammography facility. A trained technologist (mammographer) performs the procedure with specially designed X-ray equipment used solely for mammography. A radiologist, who is a physician with special training in radiology, interprets the mammograms.
The American College of Radiology has an accreditation program for facilities to assure a high quality examination. Alliance Women’s Health has achieved this accreditation at 13 sites and three mobile vans. A fourteenth site will be opened in November in the Lazarus department store at Fountain Place, downtown Cincinnati, OH.
Common Myths about Mammography and Breast Cancer
I don’t need a mammogram if I don’t have any symptoms.
Fact: Mammography can detect breast cancer up to two years before you or your physician can feel a lump. A mammogram can detect breast cancer in its earliest, most treatable stages.
There is no history of breast cancer in my family, so I don’t need to worry about getting it.
Fact: Eighty percent of women who develop breast cancer have no family history of the disease. One out of nine women will get breast cancer sometime during her lifetime. Mammography can help beat the odds.
I don’t need a mammogram unless my physician says I do.
Fact: The American College of Radiology and the American Cancer Society recommend women between the ages of 35 and 40 have a baseline mammogram; women between 40 and 49 should have an annual or biannual mammogram and should consult their personal physicians about their need for mammography; and women over 50 should have a mammogram every year.
I had one normal mammogram, so I don’t need another one.
Fact: One is not enough. Women should have mammograms done as recommended. Mammography is the most advanced and cost effective way to detect early breast cancer. It can detect breast cancer when it is in its earliest, most treatable stages. However, approximately 15-20 percent of all breast cancers will not be identified by mammography alone. For this reason, monthly breast self-examination (BSE) and a yearly physical exam also are recommended as part of a complete breast health program.
Mammography every year is too much radiation.
Fact: The radiation exposure from mammography equipment is very small. The benefits far outweigh the risk. It is much more dangerous to allow breast cancer to go undetected than to be exposed to the very low dose of radiation from mammography. The amount of exposure needed for a mammogram can be compared to that received from normal sources of radiation in the environment.
Mammograms are painful.
Fact: A mammogram is simply an X-ray of your breasts. The technologist is trained to obtain the best possible exam while minimizing discomfort. Women differ in the amount of compression that they can tolerate, so let your technologist know if the pressure is too much. Because it is necessary to adequately compress (or fatten) the breast to produce a more uniform thickness, the procedure may cause some slight discomfort for a few seconds. However, it should not hurt. The technologist will take two or more pictures of each breast. This results in a mammogram that is as clear and detailed as possible. Breast compression also reduces the amount of X-ray exposure needed.
It is often best to schedule your mammogram one week following the start of your period, when your breasts are less likely to be tender. For some women, caffeine causes breast tenderness. If you are tender-breasted, eliminate as much caffeine as possible (if not totally) for one to two weeks before your appointment. Some common sources of caffeine are coffee, tea, sodas and chocolate.
If a mammogram does show something, it’s too late.
Fact: Don’t fear the results of a mammogram. When breast cancer is found in its earliest stages, your chances of surviving are at least 90 percent or better. And there are now several improved and effective treatment options.
Remember these three key tips:
- Get a mammogram.
- Have an annual physical breast exam by your physician.
- Do monthly breast self-exams (BSE).
On the day of your exam, wear a two-piece outfit, since you will need to disrobe from the waist up. It is recommended that you do not wear deodorant, body powder, perfume, lotion or cream on your breasts or underarms. These substances can leave residues that interfere with examination results. During the exam, simply relax and cooperate with the technologist to ensure the most effective results.
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