What is a mammogram?

A mammogram is a screening test for breast cancer that is used to diagnose the disease in women who do not show any other symptoms, although it can also be used when a lump has been detected in the breast. Mammography uses x-rays to detect signs of breast cancer early in the disease , before other symptoms appear.

What does it consist of?

A mammogram takes two x – ray pictures of each breast . Each breast is scanned individually and consists of placing the breast on a transparent plate, inside the X-ray machine, where it is slightly compressed with another transparent plate on top, with the aim of flattening the chest. The machine then takes X-ray images of each breast. Normally the test is carried out by a female specialist and the X-rays last a few seconds each, so it is not a very long test.

Why is it done?

Breast cancer is the most common malignant tumor among women worldwide, with the exception of non-melanoma skin cancer. In Spain its incidence is low compared to the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, France and Switzerland, but it is one of the most aggressive. In 2019, 33,307 new cases were diagnosed in Spain, according to the AECC Cancer Observatory .

Mammography to detect breast cancer is really important for early diagnosis, which greatly improves the prognosis of the disease.

Preparation for mammography

No special preparation is usually necessary for a mammogram, but it may be advisable to wear a button-up, openable top rather than a dress or T-shirt, since it is necessary to undress from the waist up.

What does it feel like during the exam?

During the exam, the patient may notice a little pressure in the chest, since the machine needs to flatten the breast to make the scan. Now, in most cases it is not a painful process.

Some patients may feel anxious , especially if something abnormal is found on the mammogram, which may lead to further testing. But don’t panic ahead of time. Mammography is a reliable test but there is always a margin of error, and signs of breast cancer can be found that are incorrect, known as false positives. But the opposite can also happen, that signs are omitted, giving a false negative.

Despite this, mammography is a basic test for early cancer detection, and should be essential in women of a certain age and in those with a family history of breast cancer.

Meaning of abnormal results

After the mammogram, the patient should receive the results in the following two weeks, more or less. About one in 25 women are called back for more tests, which may or may not result in breast cancer. If cancer is finally diagnosed, it is a very hard time for the patient but, as mentioned above, mammography allows it to be detected at a very early stage, so she has treatment and the survival rate is very high.

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