What You Should Know About Mammograms
October 17, 2016
By: Gretchen Hong, AHNP, WHNP – UnityPoint Clinic Women’s Health

October is here and there’s a nip in the air. Carved pumpkins grin, gold and crimson leaves crunch underfoot, and people wear pink ribbons in honor of breast cancer awareness month. Since 1 in 8 women in the United States will be diagnosed with breast cancer, there’s a strong chance that you or someone you know will be impacted by breast cancer. I often get asked about screening for breast cancer in my practice. Why do I need a mammogram? How often am I supposed to get a mammogram? What’s a digital mammogram? I love hearing these questions and sharing what I know so that women are empowered to make informed decisions about screening for breast cancer.

Why do I need a mammogram? Simple: Mammograms save lives. Breast cancer kills mothers, daughters, sisters, and friends. Mammograms use x-rays to view the breast, which allows radiologists to detect lesions that could be cancerous. With today’s sophisticated mammography equipment, sometimes lesions can be detected before they are even felt. Why is that important? The earlier you can detect breast cancer, the earlier you can intervene and prevent it from spreading to other body organs. Earlier detection makes for a better chance at survival and when you have breast cancer, you want a fighting chance to beat it.

How often am I supposed to get a mammogram? The answer depends on your personal history and family history, but generally women start screening for breast cancer at age 40 and should be screened every year.
Does it hurt? The process is uncomfortable but not painful. The machine flattens the breast as much as possible so all of the breast tissue can be viewed with the least amount of radiation possible. It takes about 20 seconds to image each breast. If you squeeze the skin of your belly between your fingers, it feels similar to what you would experience during a mammogram.

What is Digital mammography? What is 3D mammography? Mammograms use x-rays to take pictures of the breast tissue. Digital mammograms take images that are recorded and saved as files in a computer. Just like it sounds, the 3D mammogram takes many images and puts the images together into a 3-dimensional picture. Fine details are more visible and are less likely to be hidden by overlapping tissue.

Are mammograms safe? Modern machines use low radiation doses to get breast x-rays that are high in image quality. The radiation dose is lower than a standard x-ray you would have for evaluation of a broken bone and is about the same amount of radiation a woman would get from her natural surroundings over approximately 7 weeks.
What do I do now? Think about the women in your life and start a conversation about the value of screening for breast cancer. A mammogram is an easy, efficient way to detect breast abnormalities. Call UnityPoint Clinic Women’s Health for a women’s health screening and referral for a mammogram at UnityPoint Health Finley Hospital if you are over age 40. A mammogram could save your life.

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