Mammography: an investment in your long-term health

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Do you know someone who survived breast cancer? There’s a good chance that a 30-minute breast health exam or mammogram played a part in saving them.

Cancer is most easily treated and cured when it is discovered in an early stage. Mammograms do not prevent breast cancer or reduce a woman’s risk of developing cancer. But for women ages 40 to 70, mammograms may help reduce deaths from breast cancer.

A mammogram is an X-ray of the breast that is used to screen for breast cancer. Mammograms can find tumors that are too small for you or your doctor to feel. There are several types of mammograms, including a standard mammogram, which puts images of the breast on film; a digital mammogram, which puts images of the breast into an electronic file and allows your doctor to see different views of the breast without taking more images; and a 3-D mammogram, which uses both digital mammogram and breast tomosynthesis. Breast tomosynthesis puts three-dimensional images of the breast into an electronic file. Using 3-D images with a digital mammogram allows your doctor to see breast tissue very clearly.

Is fear holding you back from getting a mammogram? Do you think it will be painful? Are you scared of what it might find?

Mammography professionals want to put a few of those fears to rest.

There are lots of reasons women might shy away from their first mammogram.

Some women find the whole physical aspect of the experience unsettling … from discomfort to the loss of a sense of modesty. Mammograms can feel uncomfortable, but they should not be painful.

Being exposed during the exam and having your breasts touched by someone you don’t know can be the hardest part of having a mammogram, but it might help to remember that the imaging technologists are skilled in gently coaching women through the process and using the equipment to get good, clear images of breast and lymph tissue.

More than the physical aspect of the screening, many women find that it’s the mental side that holds them back. Overcoming preconceived notions and fears of the unknown are a big part of it.

Family history or watching a loved one’s cancer journey can color someone’s view.

Some clinical studies have shown that women tend to avoid getting screened if they know someone personally who has or had breast cancer.

Carla Lange, a PeaceHealth caregiver who survived breast cancer, affirms that everyone’s stories are different. Her doctor recommended a baseline when she was 40 years old. “I had no family history or symptoms. It was by sheer luck that I was diagnosed by my first mammogram.” Because of her experience, she encourages all of the women in her life to get screened.

While the American Cancer Association guidelines recommend yearly mammograms beginning at age 45, statistics show that more than 15,000 women under the age of 40 are diagnosed with breast cancer every year.

At this point, mammograms are the best means to diagnose the disease at its most curable stage, and the new technology used today makes the process go relatively quickly. Unless the doctor orders something different, the screening usually involves taking a set of four images. For each position, you’ll hold your breath for a few seconds while the mammography unit captures your images.

Results of mammograms are typically ready within a few days.

A woman’s first mammogram is a baseline. This is a critical way for you and your healthcare providers to get to know the make-up of your breast tissue. It sets you up for the future when new screenings can show what is or isn’t normal for you. It’s helpful to remember that some women are called back for additional imaging for a more in-depth study.

Your breast imaging is an investment in your long-term health. It could even save your life.

This article is courtesy of PeaceHealth Medical Group.

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