A mammogram is a picture of the breast taken by an X-ray. It is taken to detect breast cancer in the early stages. It is highly advisable that you schedule an X-ray of your breasts at Shenandoah Women’s Healthcare in Harrisonburg, VA if you are at least 40 years of age: this imaging test can detect breast cancer up to three years before the first symptoms of breast cancer are felt. Here’s what you need to know about the imaging test.
What Happens During a Mammogram?
During a mammogram, you will be asked to undress above the waist. We will give you a wrap to wear. The breast being photographed will be placed on a plastic plate, and a plastic plate will flatten your breast against the plate from above and hold it still while the X-ray image is being captured. Once an image of your breast has been captured horizontally, an image of your breast will be captured vertically.
Then, the process will be repeated with your other breast. Once the X-ray technician has captured horizontal and vertical images of your left and right breast, the images will be reviewed to verify that each image is clear. However, you will not get your results on the day of your imaging test.
What If I Have an Abnormal Mammogram?
If the X-ray images of your breasts look abnormal, there is no cause for alarm. Every year, roughly 10% of women who get X-ray images of their breasts taken are informed that the images are abnormal. In such cases, new X-rays may be taken or other tests may be administered. There are a number of reasons why X-ray images of the breasts may look abnormal, including:
- Dense breast tissue
- Non-cancerous tumors
What Diagnostic Tests May Be Recommended?
Only one or two out of 10 women who have abnormal breast X-rays need a biopsy. Furthermore, eight out of 10 women who are biopsied are told that they have benign (non-cancerous) tumors. However, despite the very slim chances that you have breast cancer, it is well worth further testing to confirm. One of the most common follow-up tests is 3D mammography.
This type of mammography is similar to 2D mammography in that it uses X-ray technology to capture images of the breasts. However, it differs in that the breast tissue images are much more detailed. An X-ray arm sweeps the area and captures images of the breast tissue millimeter by millimeter. It doesn’t take much longer than 2D mammography but, since the images are much clearer, it is more likely that we can identify whether an abnormality is a tumor.
How Should I Prepare My Breast X-Ray?
To prepare for your breast imaging, you should shave your underarms before you come in. However, you should not apply any deodorant or antiperspirant to your underarms. Furthermore, perfume, cream, lotion, or powder should not be applied to the underarms or breasts. Since you will be asked to remove your top, we strongly recommend wearing shorts or pants to your imaging test rather than a dress.
Another important preparation step to take before your breast X-rays is to consider your menstrual cycle. If you still get menstrual periods, your breast X-ray should be scheduled after the end of your menstrual period. It is not advisable to schedule your breast X-ray seven days before your menstrual period or during your menstrual period due to the possibility that your breasts will be tender or swollen,
How Often Should I Get This Imaging Test?
How often X-rays of your breasts should be taken depends on numerous factors, including your age and risk of breast cancer based on family history. Generally, it is advisable to schedule breast X-rays every year between the ages of 40 and 54. Between the ages of 55 and 74, breast X-rays should be scheduled every other year.
What Are the Risk Factors of Breast Cancer?
There are a number of breast cancer risk factors, and many of them you cannot change. For example, your risk of developing breast cancer is higher if you received radiation therapy to the chest before the age of 30 or have a family history of ovarian or breast cancer. Furthermore, your risk of getting breast cancer increases if you have a personal history of breast cancer, lobular carcinoma in situ, or atypical hyperplasia.
Age is another significant risk factor; women over the age of 50 have a high risk of developing this disease. Moreover, if you started menstruating before the age of 12 or start menopause after 55, your risk is higher due to longer exposure to hormones. Genetic mutations to BRCA2 and BRCA1 and having dense breasts will also increase your risk, as will exposure to DES, a drug given to some pregnant women between 1940 and 1971.
How Can I Mitigate My Risk of Developing Breast Cancer?
Two significant factors that increase the risk of developing breast cancer are a sedentary lifestyle and being overweight or suffering from obesity after menopause. If you have a sedentary job or are retired, make sure you are getting at least 2.5 hours of moderate physical activity weekly to mitigate your risk of breast cancer. If you are overweight or suffer from obesity, aim to get no fewer than five hours of moderate physical activity weekly.
If you need to lose weight to have a normal BMI, it is also a good idea to cut calories from your diet. In some cases, it is possible to exercise enough to create a caloric deficit. However, if you are consuming well above maintenance for a healthy weight, track your calories for a couple of weeks. Take note of easy places to cut calories from, like the amount of butter or oil used when cooking or the amount of salad dressing you eat.
Minimize Alcohol Consumption
If you drink an excessive amount of alcohol, your risk of developing breast cancer increases significantly. Therefore, to mitigate your risk of developing breast cancer, you should consume no more than seven units of alcohol per week. To protect your heart health, you should drink no more than one unit of alcohol per day. If you usually have more than one drink per night, minimizing your alcohol consumption will help you lose weight.
Also, you may find weight loss even easier because you have the hydration and micronutrients you need to fuel your workouts. Furthermore, weight loss is easier when you drink less alcohol because alcohol consumption leads to reduced inhibitions. If your inhibitions are lower, you may consume salty, carb-dense, or fat-dense foods in excess, even if you have a goal to lose weight.
Your reproductive history can also increase your risk of developing breast cancer. For example, a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer increases significantly if she gets pregnant for the first time after the age of 30, does not breastfeed, or does not have a full-term pregnancy. Therefore, if you breastfeed after giving birth, becoming a biological mother will not increase your risk of breast cancer.
Change Your Birth Control Method
If you are using a hormone-based contraceptive, you may want to stop if you already have a high risk of breast cancer based on factors you can’t change. This is because such a contraceptive increases your risk of developing breast cancer. Similarly, your risk of developing breast cancer increases if you take hormone replacement therapy that contains both progesterone and estrogen.
What Are the Most Common Symptoms of Breast Cancer?
Mammography can detect breast cancer up to three years before symptoms first present. However, it is possible to develop breast cancer when you are in your 20s or 30s, long before the American Cancer Society recommends women start to come in for testing. If you notice any of the following symptoms, you should schedule an appointment with a female health expert:
- Breast skin dimpling
- Breast skin irritation
- Underarm or breast lump
- Nipple pain
- Bloody nipple discharge
- Breast pain
The Bottom Line
During a mammogram, you will be asked to undress from the waist up and given a wrap to cover your back. Then, one breast will be placed on a plastic plate, and pressure will be applied by a plastic plate from above, flattening it. This will hold your breast still while the X-ray is taken. If you are at least 40 years old, contact us today at Shenandoah Women’s Healthcare in Harrisonburg, VA to schedule your breast X-rays.