Excerpts from The Jamestown Sun article written by Kari Lucin.
Mammograms do not cure or prevent breast cancer, but they can detect it early – and save lives.
A mammography machine utilizes radiation to take a clear picture of breast tissue. A mammogram will usually take about 15 to 30 minutes.
Typically, a patient places one breast on the machine, where it would then be compressed for 5-6 seconds in order to get a clear picture.
While the compression is uncomfortable, it is also critical, because the tissue in younger women’s breasts is more fibrous – meaning the normal structures within the breast can look like cancer on a mammogram.
“If you’re scared to have it done, just come up and let me talk to you,” said Dawn McCarty, a registered mammographer at JRMC. “Let me show you. It’s not that bad.”
Compressing the tissue means spreading it out more, which makes it easier to see, McCarty explained.
McCarty compared hunting lumps in breast tissue with hunting for a white grain of rice in a bag of white pinto beans – spreading out the bag makes the beans and the rice easier to pick out in a picture.
Usually, a patient will have two images taken at different angles for each breast, so the compression is done twice on each one. A person with implants will have additional images taken of each breast.
Because digital mammography allows images to be sent to a doctor electronically, sometimes results of the mammogram can be given to patients before they even leave the room.
Recent research has led to differing recommendations for mammograms, particularly for women age 40 to 50.
The best idea is to ask your doctor what he or she recommends, and follow that advice.
McCarty recommends women begin with a baseline mammogram between age 35 and 40, and then get mammograms either every year or every other year between age 40 and 50, depending on whether they have a family history of breast cancer. Then they should get mammograms every year from age 50 to 80.
Those are more like the guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which recommend mammograms every two years from age 50 to 74, unless there’s a family history of breast cancer.
All those organizations base their recommendations on science, but again, the best idea is to consult a doctor.
Women getting a mammogram shouldn’t wear deodorant, because it can show up on the image. They can take over-the-counter pain relievers before the appointment, and they shouldn’t have mammograms during their periods, when breasts may be tender and sensitive. They shouldn’t get mammograms while pregnant or breastfeeding, either.
“Just come up and have it done. It’s not that bad,” McCarty said.
One in eight women will get breast cancer.
Women aren’t, however, the only ones.
About 1 percent of breast cancer cases are in men. McCarty, who has been doing mammography for 13 years, estimated about eight men visit the hospital for a mammogram every year.
“Digital mammography is still the gold standard” for breast cancer screening, McCarty said.