What is a mammogram?



By Brooke Strickland


Mammograms, an x-ray exam of the breast, are an important part of women’s health.  These exams are used to detect changes in the breast.  Technology has changed significantly in recent years, and today, these breast images can evaluate any changes in the breast tissue that could be potentially harmful to a woman.  A special machine is used for the exam – one that produces lower energy rays. 

There are two different types of mammograms.  The first is a screening mammogram, one that is a routine test that can detect cancer cells before a woman has any symptoms.  This early screening test can improve a woman’s chance of more effective treatment.  This type of mammogram usually takes two views of the breast.

The next test is a diagnostic mammogram, one that uses more pictures to study a specific area of concern.  The x-ray is able to zone in and enlarge an area of breast tissue to determine if the tissue is normal or abnormal.  The results of these diagnostic tests will determine if a biopsy is needed or if the tissue should just be monitored and checked in several months. 

A mammogram is completed by compressing the breast between 2 plates in the mammogram machine – a plastic plate on top and an x-ray plate.  It can be uncomfortable and painful for some women, but the pressure lasts only for a few seconds and is needed to get a good picture. 

Women under 40 generally do not need to undergo a mammogram, unless they are at a higher risk for developing breast cancer.  It is recommended that women over 50 should have yearly mammograms to check for any abnormal breast changes. 

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