A mammogram is an X-ray of the breast to enable a doctor to detect breast cancer. Early detection of breast cancer greatly increases the success of the treatment. Therefore, women must have regular mammograms at age 50 or earlier – more so those in the high-risk category of developing breast cancer.
Mammography is the most powerful breast cancer detection method as yet. It can save lives and save years of suffering. So go for it early, and go for it often – at least once in two years.
Some important facts about mammograms:
- No fear- Mammography ends quickly, usually within 20 mins. There is nothing for which you have to be afraid. Discomfort is minimal for most women. The procedure is safe, with only a small amount of radiation exposure.
- Fasting is not necessary on the day of the mammogram test.
- Get a digital mammogram – this is a higher quality test as the digital mammogram records data on a computer. Doctors can enlarge specific sections for closer examination.
- Bring earlier mammogram films – ensure the past record of mammograms is available to the doctor examining the result of the current test.
- Getting a mammogram once every two years is needed for women crossing the age of 50.
- High-risk category of breast cancer: a strong family history of breast or ovarian cancer; in the past have had radiation treatment to the chest – then better to start having annual mammograms at a younger age. Discuss with the doctor.
- Regular testing facility – Once a satisfactory mammogram facility is found, better to go to the same test facility for future mammograms, as much as possible. This ensures easier follow-ups.
- Avoid wearing deodorant or antiperspirant – this shows in the mammogram and interferes with the accuracy of test results.
- An unusual mammogram result needing further testing does not automatically indicate breast cancer. Around 10% of women will need more tests. Only about 8-10% of this segment may need a biopsy. About 80% of these biopsies will deliver the happy result that it is not cancer.
However, mammograms are not perfect – tests can miss about 20% of breast cancers cases. Other important screening options are also needed in tandems – such as breast self-examination, clinical breast examination, ultrasound or MRI.
Dr. Rashmi Sharma, Senior Consultant Surgical Oncology, Narayana Superspeciality Hospital, Gurugram.