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Mammography Screening For Breast Cancer

What To Expect During Your Mammogram

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Updated January 06, 2011

What is a mammogram?

A mammogram is an x-ray of the breast and surrounding tissues which can effectively detect cancers long before you might feel any changes during your monthly breast self- exam. Mammography can detect breast changes which could signify very early breast cancer.

Is mammography safe?

A very small dose of radiation is used in mammography, an amount equal to about two hours in the sun which places mammography in the safe range. In the United States, mammography clinics are certified to assure quality and safety. The American Cancer Society can provide a list of certified clinics in your area by calling your local office or 1-800-ACS-2345. It is important to remember where your mammograms are performed so that results in future years can be compared.

I have no symptoms, do I still need a mammogram?

While the American Cancer Society and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommend yearly mammograms beginning at the age of 40, other professional organizations including the American College of Physicians, the American Academy of Family Physicians, the Canadian Task Force on Periodic Health Examination, and US Preventative Services Task recommend annual screenings beginning at age 50. The difference is because the groups who recommend screening mammograms at age 50 believe that earlier mammograms may expose women to unnecessary amounts of radiation.

A mammogram can detect cancer as much as a year or two before you or your physician could feel it. Breast cancer found in its earliest stages offers the greatest chance of remission and survival.

What kind of breast changes should be reported to your physician?

  • Any lump or thickening of the breast or surrounding tissue

  • A dimpling or puckering of your breast

  • Scaling of the skin surrounding the nipple

  • Nipple discharge which is not associated with breast feeding

  • Any other breast change which is different for you

It's important to remember that most breast lumps are not cancerous and the most common reasons for breast lumps is fibrocystic breast disease which is a benign condition.

Although annual mammography offers your best chance for early detection of breast cancer, no test is 100% accurate. And it's vital for you to maintain a schedule of yearly mammograms and perform monthly breast self-exam (BSE) to check for changes. Remember, the earlier breast cancer is detected, the better your chance of beating this insidious disease.

More: About.com Breast Cancer

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