As we’re about to close Breast Cancer Awareness Month, there are a few things I’d like to say about mammography.
Recently I spoke with a woman who had grown weary of having mammograms. Tired of all of the poking and prodding, she had had enough. So she stopped having mammograms because she was convinced that she would never get breast cancer Sadly when she finally had a mammogram, after a lull of seven years, a lump was detected and she then became one of the “1 in 8” American women who are diagnosed with breast cancer each year. Luckily—and it really was fortunate—she does not have disease outside of the breast. If not for the mammogram her outcome may have been very different and she is blessed to be a cancer survivor, not a victim. Early detection saves lives.
What should you know about mammography?
A mammogram is a radiographic image of breast tissue. The actual process itself is uncomfortable for a few moments when the breast is pressed down. It’s important to know that there is no need to be fearful of radiation exposure when you have the procedure done, as the exposure is similar to flying coast-to-coast in an airplane, says breast radiologist Mimi Newell of Emory University’s Winship Cancer Center.
There are just a few simple rules to remember when you are going to have a mammogram:
1. On the day, if you wear deodorant, powders, ointments, or creams, be prepared to remove it using underarm wipes, for it can look similar to flecks of calcium and appear abnormal.
2. Avoid scheduling a mammogram the week before your menstrual cycle, so the breasts are not being pressed down when they are most sensitive.
3. Breastfeeding women should pump immediately before the exam.
4. Additional views will be needed if breast implants are present, so as to not miss any part of the breast.
It’s best to have all mammograms done at the same location in order for the radiologist to have easy access for comparisons, when necessary. If you don’t have the mammograms performed at the same location, be prepared to sign a records release form in order for copies of films to be sent to the new radiology office. Also, if cost is an issue, check with your local health department to find out if there are programs that would help cover the cost, or go to http://www.cdc.gov/cancer/nbccedp/about.htm for free screenings in your area.
Finally, consider scheduling your mammogram and well woman exam the same time each year. Make it your mission to remind sisters, friends, and family to have a mammogram. It can be the difference between life and death.
Sylvia E. Morris, MD, MPH, is a board-certified physician in internal medicine and holistic medicine. In addition to her clinical responsibilities, she speaks at many community forums and delivers health awareness presentations. Dr. Morris is active in social networking and has made guest appearances on the Weather Channel’s Weekend View and Atlanta’s Fox 5 News. Tell her what you think on Facebook.