Mammography: Why do I need a mammogram?

Mammography, specialized breast X-ray, has a bad rap in women's healthcare. While breast cancer affects...

Mammography, specialized breast X-ray, has a bad rap in women's healthcare. While breast cancer affects one in nine women, the fear of discomfort surrounding mammograms prevents many women from getting the exam.

So, why, in spite of the discomfort of a mammogram should you bite the bullet and get the squish? The reasons are numerous:

  • Mammography is the most effective way to detect breast cancer early, even before a lump can be felt.
  • Even with self-exam, you may not detect a lump before a mammogram can detect signs of cancer. And, with breast cancer, the earlier it is detected, the better your chances of survival.
  • Doctors recommend a baseline mammogram as early as age 35 as a basis of comparison for those annual mammograms after age 40.
  • If you have a family history of breast cancer, you should consider annual exams before age 40.
  • If you have symptoms of breast cancer, including a lump or thickened skin on the breast, change in breast size or shape, or breast pain, you should have a mammogram. Some of these symptoms can be difficult to isolate, particularly in breastfeeding women. If in doubt, see your doctor.

What should you expect from a mammogram?

  • Screening mammograms are done on women who show no signs of breast cancer. Two X-rays are performed per breast.
  • Diagnostic mammograms are used to check for cancer after a lump or some other sign of cancer is detected.
  • Diagnostic mammograms are a longer process, as they require more X-rays than screening mammograms. The technician can also magnify the area of a lump to help the doctor with diagnosis.
  • Most mammograms last about 20 minutes, while a diagnostic mammogram session may last a bit longer.
  • While the mammogram can be uncomfortable and even painful for some, the compression only lasts a few seconds. If it's extraordinarily uncomfortable for you, you can request a numbing gel.

While it may seem scary to have the procedure, it's brief and can be of extraordinary help in early detection. What's really scary is avoiding a mammogram and finding out you have breast cancer later on when it's more difficult to treat. Less aggressive treatment can rid your body of cancer early, while submitting to your fears and putting it off can cause much more intense and scary treatments down the road.

Contact an Atlanta OB/GYN for more information or to schedule a mammogram.

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