A mammogram is an x-ray examination of the breast tissue. The purpose of a mammogram is to look for abnormal changes that could indicate cancer. While a clinical breast exam can yield a great deal of information, some things can't be detected through touch so the mammogram fills that void.
A screening mammogram is performed once a year on women who don't have any clinical history of breast cancer. Screening mammograms are typically recommended for women once a year starting at age 35. Patients who are under 35 may need to have this test as well, depending on the doctor's recommendations. A screening mammogram includes 4 different views of the breast tissue.
A diagnostic mammogram is the type of mammogram that is done for people with a history of breast cancer. It may also be ordered when a screening mammogram has returned results that need to be investigated further. A diagnostic mammogram includes not only the 4 views (2 per breast) seen in a screening mammogram but also several other specialized views. Diagnostic mammograms are typically evaluated immediately by a radiologist.
A mammogram is done with a specialized x-ray machine. The radiologic technician situates the breasts, one by one, between plates that will compress them. By compressing the breasts, the tissue is spread out enough to get the best images. This causes a brief feeling of pressure that will soon abate. A top view and a side view will be taken of each breast. The mammogram is fairly fast, usually lasting for only around 20 minutes in most cases.
The doctor will provide patients with a list of guidelines that will help them prepare. Patients are encouraged to make their appointment prior to their period since breasts feel more painful and swollen during menstruation. Deodorant, lotion, body cream and powder should not be worn to a mammogram, as these things may interfere in the x-rays.
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