Early Detection Saves Lives

Mammograms are a key tool in the diagnosis of breast cancer, allowing doctors to detect cancers sized smaller than a pea.

Detection of breast cancer at its smallest size and earliest stage is vital, yielding the highest chance of cure and recovery. In addition to monthly breast self-examinations (BSEs), an annual clinical breast exam is important. However, these two techniques find only palpable breast cancers - cancers that can be felt, cancers that are large enough to already have spread.

The American Cancer Society, the National Cancer Institute and The Breast Center all recommend low-dose mammography as a woman's first line of defense against breast cancer. All three of these vital screening methods should be performed on a regular basis.  

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The Breast Center encourages the average woman (showing no symptoms of breast cancer) to begin having a yearly mammogram at the age of 35; other experts recommend postponing the procedure until the age of 50. Mammography finds evidence of smaller cancers, oftentimes before they can be felt.

When a non-palpable cancer is found at this early stage, it can usually be removed through a simple surgical procedure with an incredibly high rate of success. The success rate for the removal of palpable cancer is significantly lower. 

New Technology

New low-dose radiation, high-resolution mammography was one of the major breakthroughs in breast cancer detection in the latter part of the twentieth century. Special or dedicated equipment was designed specifically for the examination of the breast. Mammographic images are now so clear and detailed that cancers the size of a pea and smaller can be seen.

Research and innovation continues to push this important technology forward, using less radiation and producing higher- and higher- quality images. In addition, this type of equipment is now regulated and inspected by the U.S. government to ensure that safety guidelines are being met.

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Breast Exam Techniques

Good mammograms require a high degree of professional skill. Technique is incredibly important. Positioning, exposure and compression of the breast are some of the critical factors in producing a high-quality image. Most mammograms are relatively painless.

For women with tender breasts, having a mammogram can be mildly uncomfortable because of the need to compress the breast tissue in order to obtain a good picture. But don't let the possibility of slight discomfort put you off. A mammogram is vitally important to your breast health. 

Typically, the procedure consists of taking two shots of each breast - one view from the top and one from the side. By varying the angle of the mammogram machine, the result is a three-dimensional picture of the breast. The X-ray portion of the procedure should only take about 20 minutes total. You will be asked to undress from the waist up and generally given a wrapper to wear.


Proper Self Exam Method

Is a Lump Bad?

The technician will place you in front of the mammogram machine and position you correctly for each of the four shots. Your breasts will be compressed one at a time between two plates for about five seconds as the X ray is made. Flattening the breasts spreads the tissue thinner and thereby allows for a lower dose of radiation. Avoid motion during the mammogram to help ensure the most accurate shot. 

 A mammogram should be accompanied by a physical examination at the time of the film. This allows the physician to correlate the X-ray findings with the physical appearance of the breasts. It is very important to go to a facility that has a special interest in mammograms, a center where many mammograms are done every day.

Make sure that the equipment is modern and dedicated, low-dose equipment. These centers would be more likely to have other diagnostic techniques such as thermography and ultrasound, which can be valuable adjuncts in diagnosing breast cancer. At these facilities, doctors, nurses and X-ray technicians are continually developing their technique, producing better results, detecting smaller cancers and finding them earlier. 

Finding a Lump

If a lump should be discovered, do not immediately panic. The vast majority of lumps that are discovered are not cancerous and due to natural, benign (harmless) causes. Get any lumps checked out immediately. It's always better to be safe than sorry.