As we wrap up Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Her Wellness understands that people have been inundated with messages about scheduling a mammogram to detect any cancer as soon as possible. However, Dr. Garritano and Christina also realize that, while talk of mammograms is everywhere, very few messages explain the basic facts about these screenings. We are here to help!
First, people are often confused about the difference between a mammography and a mammogram. Mammography is low-dose x-ray imaging that can “see” inside breast tissue. The exam itself is called a mammogram, which helps detect and diagnose breast disease. It is a small distinction, but it’s important that patients understand the difference when scheduling and undergoing the screening.
As there is no sedation or anesthetic when having a mammogram, you can drive yourself to and from the appointment. Mammography requires the patient to undress from the waist up and wear a hospital gown. You will also need to remove any jewelry and refrain from wearing deodorant or anti-perspirant, as any tiny metallic specs can cause confusion on the image. The technician will help position your breast between two transparent plates to take two or more images of each breast. The entire screening lasts approximately 30 minutes and you can resume normal activity when finished.
Mammograms Are Not Just Cancer Screenings
Mammograms are primarily done for the early detection of breast cancer – meaning cancerous tumors. However, they can also catch other issues such as:
- Calcifications:Tiny flecks of calcium deposits in the breast may sometimes indicate the presence of a very early breast cancer. Calcifications typically are not felt, but they appear on a mammogram.
- Cysts: Fluid-filled masses in the breast, cysts are very common. Except in very rare cases, cysts are not associated with cancer.
- Fibroadenomas:Movable, solid, rounded lumps made up of normal breast cells. Fibroadenomas are the most common kind of lump, especially in young women. They are not cancerous, but will typically be removed for biopsy.
Get a Baseline and Then Follow the Recommended Schedule
All people are different, right down to breast tissue. With every mammogram, your doctor will compare your most recent images to images in the past to look for changes and areas of concern. This is why it is important to begin your mammogram appointments when you are not experiencing any symptoms, establishing a “baseline” image of healthy breast tissue. Having this baseline will assist technicians in easily detecting changes in your breast tissue. A series of images over time is the best tool your doctor can have to analyze your breast health.
Dr. Garritano and Christina recommend mammograms at:
- At age 40: Receive your first mammogram establish a baseline.
- Age 40 to 54: Get mammograms annually.
- 55 and older: Get mammograms every other year.
- Screening should continue as long as a person is in good health and expected to live 10 more years or longer.
- Women with dense breast tissue are also recommended to have a screening ultrasound along with a mammogram annually.
If you have your annual screening mammogram and a change is detected or something requires further exploring, your doctor will order a diagnostic mammogram. If you are recovering from breast cancer, your doctor will likely have you come in more frequently to ensure that the cancer has not returned.
Regarding Implants, Reductions, and Breastfeeding
If you have breast implants, you will follow the same recommended screening schedule. However, when making your appointment, inform them that you have implants. When you arrive at your appointment, remind your technician of your implants again. The x-rays used in mammograms cannot see what is behind silicone or saline implants, so to view as much as the breast tissue as possible, four additional images will be taken. Your technician will manipulate the implant out of the way to view as much of the breast tissue as possible.
If you have had a breast reduction, scar tissue will develop inside your breast as you heal, changing the texture of your breast. Because of this, it is recommended that new baseline images are made six months after your surgery. After this baseline is taken, you can resume the typical recommended screening schedule.
Pregnancy and breastfeeding changes the shape and texture of your breasts, due to the natural weight gain of pregnancy and the production of milk. When a person lactates, breasts can become two to three sizes bigger than what they were before pregnancy. Breastfeeding shifts fatty tissue and connective tissue in your breast, as does genetics and age.
Breast Cancer Awareness Month and all the mammogram reminder messages may be ending for 2021, but if you’re over 40 and haven’t yet scheduled your mammogram, please listen to this final reminder this October – and make the call now.
Worried about the cost of a mammogram? Medicare, Medicaid and most insurance companies cover mammograms, with no out-of-pocket fees. You can also call 1-877-465-6636 and the Komen Foundation will help you access a low-cost screening nearby.
Still have questions about getting a mammogram? Call Her Wellness at 203-409-2539 or click here to make an appointment. Christina and Dr. Garritano will be happy to answer all your concerns.