Much is said about the importance of getting a mammogram every year, but we know little about what it means to do one; it can mean a matter of life or death. According to the latest research, routine mammography screening can reduce breast cancer mortality rates by nearly 30 percent.
To demystify mammograms, we spoke with Dr. Analisa Careddu, a medical specialist in the diagnosis of breast cancer.
What exactly is a mammogram?
A mammogram is an x-ray picture of the breast. We perform two x-rays of each breast; this is called a basic study. Through the x-rays, the radiologist can evaluate and identify any abnormalities. If necessary, we can ask the technique to further review the or are sent or to have additional x-rays made. It’s important to clarify that when this happens, it doesn’t necessarily mean that something serious has been found. Mammography and ultrasounds are inseparable; sometimes you do need to do a mammogram and an additional echo exam.
For example, when a patients has a lot of breast tissue, it’s critical for the radiologist that performed the mammogram to do an ultrasounds, even if you can’t feel anything or the patients doesn’t have any pain. The doctor in charge of reading the results should insist that the extra step is taken in order to avoid a misdiagnosis.
So these “little lumps” are not necessarily synonymous with cancer.
Exactly. Most breast lesions are benign and most of the lesions you feel are the normal make-up of the breast tissue itself. If you do find something, do not panic.
Is there a potential for errors?
I can summarize the three main causes of error: inadequate radiological technique, faulty interpretation of the study by the radiologist, and the third could be that, although there are images that appear to be benign, they should be biopsied.
Are results usually delivered immediately?
Once the review is conducted, we verbally give a patient preliminary information. We then give a radiology report that has the stamp of approval by two specialists: one who does the evaluation and one who reviews the exam a second time. This second reading has increased early diagnosis by over 15%, but it takes time, that’s why we don’t give immediate results.
One of the fears that many women have about mammograms is that it’s painful. Does the test really hurt?
It’s not only painful, but the procedure is annoying. But if the patient is nervous, muscles are compressed, causing to hurt. So it’s good that a doctor explains to the patient beforehand what the exam entails and to show them what the equipment looks like so that they can become familiar with it. It’s very important for a patient to be relaxed.
At what age should women start getting a mammogram and how often?
According to the American College of Radiology, starting at age 35, when they don’t start showing symptoms. If there is a family history of breast cancer, then they should begin at age 30. It’s important to get a mammogram regularly. Women ages 50 to 74 years should get a mammogram every 2 years. Women younger than 50 should talk to a doctor about when to start and how often to have a mammogram. A mammogram doesn’t work if it’s only done once every ten years.
Can breast implants interfere with proper diagnosis?
The implant can complicate the assessment of the breast tissue. Implants can hide some breast tissue, making it harder for the radiologist to see a problem when looking at your mammogram. It’s always important to tell the radiologist that you have breast implants. In order to evaluate your breast tissue as thoroughly as possible, the x-ray technician will gently lift the breast tissue slightly away from the implant and take extra pictures of the breasts.
What’s the best Medical center to get a high-quality mammogram?
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) certifies mammography facilities that meet strict quality standards for their x-ray machines and staff and are inspected every year. You can ask your doctor or the staff at the mammography center about their FDA certification before making your appointment. It’s also necessary that the radiologist be specialist in the diagnosis of breast cancer, who is able to interpret a mammogram, breast ultrasound, make proper correlations, and even able to make recommendations.
Analisa Careddu is a medical specialist in the diagnosis of breast cancer, a coordinator at the Mammography Unit at the Metropolitan Polyclinic, in Caracas, Venezuela.
American Cancer Society: cancer.org.