How to prepare for a mammogram
To prepare for a mammogram, it is best to follow the subsequent steps in order to ensure the best experience:
- Choose a facility that is certified or one your doctor recommends.
- Try to choose a period when you know your breasts will not be as tender, this is normally the first seven days after your period (menstrual cycle) unless you have already experienced menopause, in this case, you will no longer have your menstrual cycle. Your breasts tend to be more tender during the week prior to your period (menstrual cycle) as well as the week once your period is finished.
- If you are booked to go to a different or new mammogram facility, it is advised that you bring previous screening images with you, you can also request for them to be put onto a CD or flash disc. This helps the radiologist to compare previous screenings to the current ones.
- Avoid using deodorant, perfume, creams or oils on your arms and breasts as these may contain metallic particles that can be visible in your scan.
- New mammogram technology aims to minimise the pain and discomfort experienced during a screening. However, this technology is not yet available in all facilities. If you have found mammograms to be uncomfortable or painful in the past, consider taking aspirin or ibuprofen prior to the procedure (this should be discussed with your doctor if you have any underlying health issues).
During the mammogram
Your doctor will ask you to take off your clothes from your waist up, as well as remove any necklaces you may have on. You will be given a gown that ties in the front. You may be asked to stand or sit during the procedure, depending on the facility.
You will then be sitting or standing in the front of the specialised X-ray (mammogram) machine. The radiologist will place each of the breasts onto a platform while adjusting the machine to your height accordingly. The radiologist will then assist you in placing your arms and head in the right places so as to allow for a clear image of the breasts.
Your breasts will then be pressed onto the platform through using a plastic and clear plate. This applies pressure for a couple of seconds in order to spread the tissue of the breast out. This pressure may be uncomfortable or painful, but it is not harmful. Also, remind yourself that a few seconds of pain once a year is worth it in the greater scheme of things because early detection of breast cancer can save your life.
You may be asked to hold your breath during the X-ray. This applied pressure enables your breast to be spread evenly, allowing the X-ray to pass through the breast tissue. It also holds your breasts in place for a clear scan.
After the mammogram
Once the images have been produced of both the breasts, the radiologist will check them to ensure they are of good quality. If they are blurred or inadequate, you may be asked to repeat some tests aspects. When clear images have been produced, you will be able to put your clothes back on. The procedure normally takes about 30 minutes.
In the case of a digital mammogram, the electronic images will be made available immediately. In other cases, the radiologist may give your results to your doctor before 30 days.
The results of a mammogram
Mammograms are the white and black images produced through mammography. They are normally digital images which are sent to your the computer screen of your radiologist to interpret and then give your doctor a report on.
The radiologist will look for possible findings that could indicate cancer as well as noncancerous abnormalities (benign tumours for example), such findings may require an additional follow-up appointment or treatment.
Findings can include:
- Lumps or masses – either cancerous or benign (noncancerous)
- Calcifications (calcium deposits) in tissues and ducts– these can be due to cell debris, cell secretions, as well as inflammation. Coarser and larger parts of calcification can also be caused due to a benign (noncancerous) condition such fibroadenoma, which is a commonly known tumour that is noncancerous.
- Specific dense areas– these denote to tissue seen to be more glandular as opposed to fatty. If the area is distorted, it may suggest that the tumour has invaded the neighbouring tissues.
- Development of a new dense area since the last mammogram.
If your doctor reports that there are parts that denote concern on the mammogram, he may suggest additional mammograms. Other additional procedures may also be conducted, these can include an ultrasound or even a biopsy. A biopsy will remove a breast tissue sample to be sent to the lab for testing.