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As if yearly trips to the gynecologist aren’t enough, now doctors are recommending that women go in for a mammogram once a year. This is a procedure that is used to detect early signs of breast cancer. It can seem like a scary procedure to some. Let’s break it down what a mammogram is and what you can expect.
What is a mammogram?
A mammogram is essentially an x-ray of your breasts that displays a comprehensive photo and any subtle cell changes that may be an indication of breast cancer.
What happens during a mammogram?
During a mammogram, the attendant will have you take off anything from the waist up and instruct you to stand in front of the x-ray machine, placing your breast on the platform. The platform will then move to slightly stretch your skin, although typically not in a painful way. This allows for a smaller amount of x-ray exposure as well as less repetition. It keeps you still from even flinching. Finally, you will hold your breath while the picture is taken and then repeat the procedure for the other breast. From start to finish, the entire procedure will take less than thirty minutes. I’ve always thought of mammograms as a scary procedure, so it’s comforting to think about it as a standard x-ray.
Why are many people adamant about refuting the test?
False positives. While false positives are possible with any test, they are typically higher for mammograms, especially in younger women. A false positive typically comes from noncancerous dense breast tissue, a cyst, or tumor that shows up in the scan. Once the mammogram comes back positive, you will go in for a more comprehensive mammogram, an ultrasound, or sometimes even an MRI. If those test come back positive, you will likely need a biopsy of the cells to determine if they’re cancerous – if they are ,you will proceed with routine breast cancer treatments. If the additional tests come back negative, this is what is considered a false positive. You will resume your normal life, still coming in for annual mammograms.
How can I decide if I need a mammogram?
If you’re over the age of forty, annual mammograms are highly recommended. One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime so, while it’s easy to take the “it won’t happen to me” stance, breast cancer isn’t rare by any means. So many women, even some I know personally, have caught and beaten their breast cancer thanks to an annual mammogram. This form of early detection can make a world of difference and can be the key to getting in front of a fight that kills around 40,500 women in the US every year.
If you’re still not convinced or you’re worried about false positives, look at your family history. Have other women in your family been diagnosed with breast cancer? If you have a first degree relative (mother, sister, or daughter) that battled breast cancer, you are twice as likely to develop breast cancer yourself. If two of your first degree relatives have breast cancer, you are three to four times more likely to develop the disease. Family history is so important, if breast cancer runs in your family, a yearly mammogram is even more important.
Regardless of your current health, family history, or age, self-checks and breast cancer awareness are crucial. Once you hit the age of forty, your risks go up. By this age, you should get a mammogram done once a year. While there is a risk of going through unnecessary testing because of a false positive, there is also a risk of letting a lump go undetected until it’s too late.
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