A mammogram test is one of the most vital tools to detect breast cancer in its earliest stages. The sooner cancer is caught, the higher the chances that it can be completely cured. A mammogram test is used to both screen for cancer prevention as well as confirm a suspicion of cancer. Considering that breast cancer will affect approximately 1 in 8 women today, a mammogram test is the first step to catching this prevalent disease in its nascent stages.
The mammogram machine basically takes an X-ray image of your breasts. This image will show up any abnormal growths in your breast tissue. Breast cancer is one of those diseases which does not show symptoms until the cancer has grown considerably. A mammogram test can detect the subtle changes which doctors know will eventually manifest as cancer. They can then conduct further tests to confirm this as well as perform preventive surgery. Chemotherapy – the accepted form of cancer treatment – works better on smaller tumours thus allowing for a higher chance of success. Because the chances of a full recovery are greater with early detection, a mammogram is second only to a self breast examination when it comes to gaining the upper hand on this disease.
Preparing for a mammogram
- Schedule your mammogram test for a day when hormonal changes will not leave them tender. It’s better to plan it midway through your menstrual cycle or right after your period.
- Do not apply a deo or lotion on your upper body on the day of the test.
- Wear a two-piece ensemble as you will need to be topless during the mammogram.
- You can eat and drink as normal before and after a mammogram test.
What happens during a mammogram test?
You will be required to take your top off as well as any jewellery you may be wearing around your neck. The mammogram machine is a vertical one so you would have to stand in front of it rather than lay down as is the case with a conventional X-ray machine. Each breast is X-rayed separately. The breast is placed on a platform and then compressed from above by a plastic plate. This compression helps to flatten out the breast on the platform so that it can be better scanned by the machine. This part of it can get a little uncomfortable. Some women may even find it painful to have their breasts flattened out this way. The X-rays are then taken and the same procedure is performed on the other breast.
Who should undergo mammogram tests?
A couple of decades ago, you wouldn’t have had to worry about breast cancer until you were in your 40s. Even now, women above 40 are advised to get a mammogram test every two years or so. Unfortunately, breast cancer affects both men and women of all ages now. That does not mean you have to constantly worry about it and obsessively undergo cancer screening tests all the time. Talk to your doctor about whether you are at high risk for cancer and see if it is necessary to schedule a mammogram test on the basis of your individual medical history.
Other things you should know
- The mammogram machine emits a small dose of radiation. However, the amount is almost negligible. Plus, the advantages of this cancer-screening test far outweigh the inherent risks.
- A mammogram is not always accurate and it does not always detect cancer early.
- Just because a cancer is found early through a mammogram does not mean that it can be treated. Some types of cancer can spread like crazy even in the early stages. These can be harder to treat.
- Some mammogram results can be difficult to interpret. For example, when breast tissue is naturally dense, it may not be possible for the mammogram machine to detect abnormalities.
- Just because a mammogram machine detects a growth does not mean that it is cancer. You may have to undergo additional testing for an accurate diagnosis.