What to expect when you get a mammogram
Having a mammogram requires that you undress above the waist. The facility will give you a wrap to wear.
A technologist will be there to position your breasts for the mammogram. All of EMH's technologists are women and you and the technologist are the only ones in the room during the mammogram.
To get a high-quality mammogram picture, it is necessary to flatten the breast slightly. The technologist places the breast on the mammogram machine's lower plate, which is made of metal and has a drawer to hold the x-ray film or the camera to produce a digital image. The upper plate, made of plastic, is lowered to compress the breast for a few seconds while the picture is taken.
The whole procedure takes about 20 minutes. The actual breast compression only lasts a few seconds.
You may feel some discomfort when your breasts are compressed, and for some women compression can be painful. Try not to schedule a mammogram when your breasts are likely to be tender, as they may be just before or during your period.
All mammogram facilities are now required to send your results to you within 30 days. Generally, you will be contacted within 5 working days if there is a problem with the mammogram.
Only 2 to 4 screening mammograms of every 1,000 lead to a diagnosis of cancer. About 10% of women who have a mammogram will require more tests, and most will only need an additional mammogram. Don't panic if this happens to you. Only 8% to 10% of those women will need a biopsy, and most (80%) of those biopsies will not be cancer.
EMH has offered mammography since 1989. In August 2010, the EMH Board of Trustees approved the purchase of digital mammography equipment to replace our conventional equipment. Digital Mammography uses traditional x-ray generators and tubes to produce an x-ray beam just like conventional film mammography. The difference is that the radiation strikes a digital image. The x-ray signal is converted into digital information that can be stored electronically, transmitted, displayed, analyzed, and manipulated in a number of ways. The systems allow image processing and offer ease of image storage and retrieval.
A mammogram is an x-ray of the breast. A diagnostic mammogram is used to diagnose breast disease in women who have breast symptoms or an abnormal result on a screening mammogram. Screening mammograms are used to look for breast disease in women who are asymptomatic; that is, those who appear to have no breast problems. Screening mammograms usually take 2 views (x-ray pictures taken from different angles) of each breast. Women who are breast-feeding can still get mammograms, although these are probably not quite as accurate because the breast tissue tends to be dense.
For some women, such as those with breast implants (for augmentation or as reconstruction after mastectomy), additional pictures may be needed to include as much breast tissue as possible. Breast implants make it harder to see breast tissue on standard mammograms, but additional x-ray pictures with implant displacement and compression views can be used to more completely examine the breast tissue. If you have implants, it is important that you have your mammograms done by someone skilled in the techniques used for women with implants.
Although breast x-rays have been performed for more than 70 years, modern mammography has only existed since 1969. That was the first year x-ray units dedicated to breast imaging were available. Modern mammogram equipment designed for breast x-rays uses very low levels of radiation, usually about a 0.1 to 0.2 rad dose per x-ray (a rad is a measure of radiation dose).
Strict guidelines ensure that mammogram equipment is safe and uses the lowest dose of radiation possible. Many people are concerned about the exposure to x-rays, but the level of radiation used in modern mammograms does not significantly increase the risk for breast cancer.
To put dose into perspective, a woman who receives radiation as a treatment for breast cancer will receive several thousand rads. If she had yearly mammograms beginning at age 40 and continuing until she was 90, she will have received 20 to 40 rads. As another example, flying from New York to California on a commercial jet exposes a woman to roughly the same amount of radiation as one mammogram.
For a mammogram, the breast is compressed between 2 plates to flatten and spread the tissue. Although this may be uncomfortable for a moment, it is necessary to produce a good, readable mammogram. The compression only lasts a few seconds. The entire procedure for a screening mammogram takes about 20 minutes.
Much of this information came from the American Cancer Society website: www.cancer.org