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Diagnosing Breast Cancer with Mammography

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What is mammography?

Mammography is an X-ray examination of the breast. The examination finds and characterizes breast tissue abnormalities.

Is the examination painful and how long does it take?

When the X-ray is taken, the breast must be compressed to get the best detail. Although this compression may be uncomfortable, it should not be painful and it will last only seconds. The compression also reduces the radiation dose given to penetrate the tissue. Compression also prevents motion that mav result in the need for additional and/or repeat views. Please arrive 10-15 minutes before your appointment time and allow 30 minutes for the exam.

What can I do to optimize my mammogram?

Please don't wear underarm deodorant, powder or perfumes on the day of your exam, as they may produce film spots which mimic cancer. To minimize breast tenderness, avoid caffeine for several days before your mammogram, and time your appointment to minimize premenstrual tenderness. If your prior mammograms were not done by Anne Arundel Diagnostics, please make arrangements to have them promptly sent to us so your old films can be compared to your current exam.

Are all lumps in the breast bad?

No. In fact, most lumps are not. Many women at one time or another have lumps in their breasts. This is especially true of women in their child- bearing years. However, a lump in the breast may be due to breast cancer, a leading cause of death in women. One woman in every nine will develop breast cancer.

What are breast calcifications?

As you age, breasts often develop calcium deposits called calcifications. These calcifications can be so tiny that they can't alwavs be felt. The majority of breast calcifications do not represent cancer. However, mammography can detect some specific patterns of breast calcifications that may be formed by cancer.

Can mammography detect breast cancer before my physician or I can feel it?

Yes. Studies show that approximately 50 percent of breast cancer can be found first by mammography.

My breast tissue is dense and lumpy. Is mammography accurate for me?

Some breast cancers (8-10 percent) cannot be seen on mammography. Dense and lumpy tissue is especially difficult to penetrate adequately with mammography. The secondary signs of malignancy may be detected in these breasts, but some masses will be obscured. That is the reason it is so important to perform breast self- examinations and to see your physician for regular breast examinations. Ask our mammographers for shower cards with directions on breast self-examinations and then hang the card in vour shower as a reminder. Instructional videotapes explaining breast self-examination also are available for viewing.

What if I can feel a lump in my breast but it is not seen on my mammogram?

Since not every breast cancer can be seen on a mammogram, any lump that can be felt must be examined by your physician whether or not it can be seen on a mammogram. In most cases a palpable mass is removed or tissue is sampled from it to confirm it is not a cancer.

Is mammography harmful to me?

As in other X-ray examinations, radiation is used. With the extremely low doses of radiation used, there is no evidence of anv significant risk to the patient. We use a low-dose film-screen combination and state-of-the-art, dedicated mammography machines.

Do my breast implants affect the mammogram?

Yes, extra views are usually needed to see the breast tissue around the implant, and to evaluate the implant for any problems.

Are there different types of mammograms?

The two types of mammograms are: Diagnostic Mammogram and Screening Mammogram. The Diagnostic Mammogram is more expensive and usually done to evaluate an abnormality. The Screening Mammogram is less expensive, consists of two views of each breast, and is usually scheduled on an annual or biannual basis for women without symptoms of a lump or discharge.

Why must some women return for extra mammograms?

The Screening Mammogram is not reviewed by the radiologist until after you depart. About 10 to 20 percent of the time, the radiologist sees an area which needs further evaluation. Please do not be excessively concerned if you are contacted bv our staff to return for further evaluation. Most of the time, the extra exam only confirms a benign finding; however, it is very important to follow through with these extra studies.

Are repeat exams dangerous?

Just as we try to take as few films during each examination as possible, we also try to limit the number of examinations. But each patient has special problems. Some patients may only need periodic examinations; others should have them yearly. The radiation dose risk from annual mammography is extremely low, and it is much less dangerous than your risk of developing breast cancer.

Who interprets my mammogram?

Technologists certified in mammography will take the X-ray pictures. The radiologist, a specialized physician trained in the interpretation of X-rays, reads every mammogram. All our radiologists are board certified, on-site physicians with special competence in mammography. They receive yearly instructions to keep their skills current. Once the mammogram is read, the typewritten report is then mailed to your primary physician. The contents of this report, together with the findings from your physical examination, will determine the course of action you and your physician will pursue.

When and how will I get the results of my mammogram?

The radiologist's written report on your mammogram will arrive in your physician's office in several days. A letter summarizing your results will be mailed directly to you, also within one week. If you have not received your results within one week, call your primary physician.

Is your mammography equipment accredited?

All of our mammography machines are accredited by the American College of Radiology and certified by the FDA. This means they meet the most stringent quality standards.

Should a mammogram be performed as part of a routine check-up?

Yes. The current guidelines of the American Cancer Society and other major medical organizations indicate the importance of this examination. It is recommended that a baseline mammogram be performed by age 40, and an annual or every other year mammogram be done between the ages of 40 and 50. Annual mammography is recommended for all women over age 50.

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