Mammography exam, also known as a mammogram, is an imaging procedure that uses x-ray technology to detect abnormalities in breast tissue. Mammography plays an important part in the early detection of breast cancers because it can show changes in breast tissue up to two years before the outward symptoms appear.
A mammogram machine is a type of x-ray machine designed specifically to image the breast. A special device compresses one breast at a time to create an image of the tissue. Digital mammograms are becoming increasingly popular and will soon replace film mammography. A digital mammogram machine, like a digital camera, produces an image instantaneously on the computer screen, and stores its images on a computer. The technician can see right away if the image is clear or if it needs to be taken again, thereby reducing the need for repeat visits. Digital mammograms take less time, which reduces a patients' exposure to radiation. Studies show that digital mammography produces more detailed images than film mammography, which can enable a radiologist to identify breast disease at an earlier stage. In addition, digital mammogram images can be shared more quickly and inexpensively between doctors, which can help to speed up the diagnostic and treatment process.
How to Prepare for your Visit
Because mammography can be made more uncomfortable than normal when a patient's breasts are tender, we advise against scheduling a mammogram the week prior to your period. The best time for a mammogram is one week following your period The American Cancer Society recommends that you avoid wearing deodorant, talcum powder or lotion under your arms or on your breasts on the day of your mammogram, These can appear on the mammogram image as calcium spots.
WHAT TO EXPECT
Once both you and your mammogram technician are ready to begin, the technician will position your breast in the mammography unit. One breast will be placed on a special platform and compressed with a clear paddle. Depending on the individual, breast compression may range from slightly uncomfortable to very uncomfortable; however, it is necessary for the best image possible. Compression of the breast creates a uniform tissue thickness for the x-ray image, which allows for a clearer, unobstructed image and reduces your exposure to x-ray radiation. The direction of the compression will be changed in between images to achieve a top-to-bottom view and a side view. The same process will be repeated for the other breast. You may be asked to hold your breath for a few seconds while the x-ray is being taken in order to get a clearer image. The mammography exam should take about 30 minutes.