Mammograms are the best screening tool for early detection of breast cancer and other problems with a woman’s breasts. The earlier breast cancer is found, the better chance a woman has of survival and the more treatment choices are available. In a mammogram, a low-dose x-ray takes pictures of both breasts. The images are recorded on x-ray film or, in the case of a digital mammogram, saved to a computer.

Mammograms are effective because they let the doctor have a detailed look within the breasts to search for lumps and breast tissue changes that may not be detectable during a breast examination. If a lump is found, your doctor will probably order other tests, such as an ultrasound or biopsy to look for cancer or indications that cancer may develop. Breast lumps and growths are not necessarily cancerous.

The two types of mammograms are screening mammograms and diagnostic mammograms. A screening mammogram is performed on women who have no symptoms of breast cancer. It is recommended that all women undergo a screening mammogram annually beginning at age 40. A diagnostic mammogram is done when a woman has breast cancer symptoms or a lump. Usually more pictures are taken during this type of mammogram.

During a mammogram, a radiologic technologist will place your breasts one at a time between two plastic plates, which will press your breasts until they’re flat. Although this may be painful, it is important because the flatter your breasts are the better the picture.

Because implants can hide breast tissue, women with breast implants should make sure that the radiologic technologist administering the mammogram is trained in x-raying patients with implants. Breast tissue may need to be lifted away from the implant to get a picture.

1. A mammogram should be performed along with an examination by your doctor. There are some cancers that cannot be detected by a mammogram but may be detected by a physical exam.

2. Women should check their own breasts for lumps or other changes. Breast self-exams should be performed in addition to a physical exam by a doctor and an annual screening mammogram.

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