Although it usually occurs in women over 35 years of age, breast cancer knows no age, race, social, or lifestyle barriers. It can strike any woman at any time, regardless whether or not she has ever smoked, taken an alcoholic beverage, or ever taken birth control.
Although certain factors can increase a woman’s risk of getting breast cancer, every woman is at risk. Even women who have never experienced a day of illness in their entire lives can fall victim.
Breast Cancer No Longer a Taboo Subject
Breast cancer is no longer a taboo topic of conversation. As breast cancer awareness increases so do a woman’s ability to take responsibility by taking preventive measures. Routine self-examinations and mammography screenings go a long way in detecting breast cancer while still in the early stages. Early detection greatly minimizes the seriousness of cancer if it is detected, and increases a woman’s chance for survival.
Yet, many women remain reluctant to take the initiative and schedule for a mammography screening. One reason is due of the fear of the unknown. Women who have never had one don’t know what to expect.
This article was written with these women in mind. It outlines what to expect during a mammogram, and tells how to prepare for one. Many women who have been reluctant to schedule for a mammography screening will be pleasantly surprised to learn that the procedure itself is not nearly as intimidating as imagined.
The Mammography Screening
Let’s begin with how to prepare for a mammogram. When scheduling for a mammogram, opt for a time when your breasts are least likely to be tender. This is usually the week following menstruation. Breasts are most apt to be sensitive just before and during your menstrual cycle.
Once you have secured an appointment, you will be instructed to avoid the use of deodorants, powders, lotions, creams or perfumes under your arms or around your breasts on the day of your mammogram. This is because metallic particles contained in powders, deodorants, and perfumes could be visible on the mammogram, making results confusing.
The Day of the Mammography
The day of your test you might want to avoid wearing jewelry, since you will be asked to remove jewelry for the test. You might also want to wear a two-piece outfit, since you will have to remove everything from the waist up.
Aspirin or another over the counter pain reliever such as Tylenol or ibuprofen can be taken about an hour before the mammogram to help ease any discomfort experienced during testing.
Once you arrive for your test, you will be given an examination gown. You will be asked to remove jewelry, if you are wearing any and all clothing from the waist up.
What Happens During the Mammography Screening?
During the procedure you will stand in front of an X-ray machine, specifically designed for mammography purposes. A technician will place one of your breasts on a platform that holds the X-ray film. The platform will be adjusted to your height; the technician will adjust your posture and position your body for an unobstructed view of your breast.
It is necessary that your breast be carefully pressed against the platform by use of a clear plastic plate used to spread out breast tissue. This is essential so that the X-rays can penetrate the tissue. You may find this uncomfortable, or even a little painful. If discomfort is too great, tell the technician.
During X-ray exposure, you will be asked to stand still and hold your breath. Try to relax. Exposure time will be brief. The same process will be repeated for your other breast.
After the Mammogram
After both breasts have been X-rayed, you may be asked to wait until the technician checks the quality of the images. If the views are not adequate, you may have to be x-rayed. If the images are clear, you will be able to dress, and go about your day.
The entire procedure usually takes less than a half hour. A radiologist will study the x-rays. He will be looking for evidence of cancerous or non-cancerous conditions. After he examines the images, the radiologist will send your doctor a written report with the results of the tests.
Possible findings include things such as calcium deposits, most of which are benign, and masses of lumps. He will also look for distorted tissues, and areas of denseness that appear in only one breast. If the radiologist notes any areas of concern in his report, further tests will be recommended, just to be on the safe side. Roughly 5 to 15 percent of mammogram testing is followed by further testing.
While mammography is a very good way to help determine whether or not cancer is present, it isn’t fool proof. Very small cancers or cancers located in a difficult to see area might not show up on the mammogram.
A mammography also is not without potential risks. During the mammogram screening you will be briefly exposed to low-dose radiation. Even so, the benefits of mammography far outweigh possible risks, especially for women over age 40.
Having a mammogram might not be top on your list of things you enjoy doing, but it nevertheless increases a woman’s chance at longevity. Mammogram screening is an effective tool that could prove life saving. That is because early detection remains a woman’s best defense in the fight against her number one enemy; breast cancer.
Every year the third Friday in October is National Mammography Day. For more information about breast cancer, visit the quick content pages at Writers Write Now web site.
2006 Lori S. Anton
Writers Write Now