Mammography Screening Guidelines– A Comprehensive Guide
Having a mammography screening is an important part of any woman's health routine. However, there are many confounding factors that complicate the process. For example, women may not know which type of mammogram to have or how often they should have one. This article will explore these questions in order to provide some clarity on the subject.
What is Mammography?
Mammography is a medical imaging technique that uses low-energy X-rays to detect breast cancer. It can be used to find breast cancer before it can be felt. The importance of early detection of breast cancer is that it increases the chance of survival. It also helps in preventing the disease from spreading to other parts of the body.
It is recommended to have routine mammograms beginning at the age of 40. This can help detect potential problems with your breasts and provide early detection of cancerous tumour growth or spread that may otherwise go unnoticed.
Mammography screening should be done every year, but depending on the individual's risk factors, this may be increased to twice a year. The frequency of mammograms can also depend on whether you are already having them or not.
The US Preventive Services Task Force recommends that women between the ages of 50 and 74 get a mammogram every 2 years. The American Cancer Society on the other hand recommends that women in their 40s, who are at a higher risk for breast cancer, get annual mammograms.
How does Mammography screening for breast cancer Work?
Mammography screening is performed by exposing the breast to low-dose X-rays. A lead screen is attached to the woman's breasts, and then an X-ray tube emits low levels of radiation through the breast tissue. Most X-rays are taken from the chest, but it is possible to take them from specific areas. These include the abdomen, pelvic bone, and other parts of the body.
As women grow older, it becomes harder for mammogram machines to find small tumours in their breasts. When those small tumours cannot be seen with mammograms because they are too small, other screening tests are needed. These includes:
Ultrasound - Ultrasound uses high-frequency sound waves to create a picture of the body. An ultrasound machine sends out high-frequency sound waves that bounce back when they hit soft tissue and structures in between them and send a reflection back to the machine, which makes an image of what is being looked at.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans - Magnetic resonance imaging, abbreviated MRI, is a type of medical imaging technique which uses magnetic fields and radio waves to produce detailed images of the inside of the body. While most MRIs are done for diagnostic purposes, this technology is also used in research settings. Magnetic resonance imaging is characterized as a non-invasive procedure which cannot be felt or heard and produces images that are usually also not felt or heard.
On the mammography screening film, the connective and glandular tissues, or tumours, appear white on greyscale. Fat appears darker and has more shades of grey. A mammography screening typically consists of both a top and side view of each breast. If your doctor is concerned about a particular area, he might take more views.
What Are the Benefits of Mammography?
The benefits of this mammography screening are mainly to provide a baseline for a woman’s breast health, detect any changes over several years (since it takes 3-5 years for most cancers to develop), and find cancer at an early stage when treatment may be more effective and help prevent it from spreading.
Mammography can also detect some other types of tumours in women that do not produce milk like ovarian, uterine and cervical cancer.
A mammography screening can find:
- Non-cancerous growths
- Early stage cancers
- Invasive cancers
The earlier the cancer is found, the more likely it will be successfully treated.
What are the risks associated with Mammography Screening?
Some people have a fear of radiation, while others may have a fear of the image being misinterpreted. While there are risks associated with mammography, these can be lessened by going to a licensed medical facility.
There are two categories of risk associated with mammography, namely:
Physical - Physical risks are related to radiation exposure and include burns, scars, degraded skin tissue and dermatitis, among others.
Psychological - Psychological risk is related to the anxiety caused by anticipation of the procedure or memories of past experiences with mammograms followed by false positives or false negatives.
In my opinion, one of the biggest risks is false positives. A false positive could lead to patients getting unnecessary treatments that may cause harm in some cases or distress for those who are told they have cancer when they really don't.
Mammography can also have a negative effect on one's mental health as well as on one's self-esteem and sexual life due to stress levels on the rise. However, the overall benefits outweigh the risks and that mammography is an important screening for women over 40 and under 50
Can you have a Mammography Screening if you're Pregnant or Breastfeeding?
If you are pregnant and breastfeeding, and need mammography, it's important to talk with your doctor or healthcare provider before going in. They may recommend that you wait until after delivery or start your testing schedule in a few weeks. Mammography is not recommended for breastfeeding women because radiation exposure could harm the baby.
However, It is still unclear if it is safe to get a mammogram while breastfeeding. There are mixed opinions on the subject. Some research has shown that exposure to radiation can increase the risk of cancer in breast tissue and that this risk may be greater for children born after a woman has received radiation during breastfeeding.
However, other researchers argue that the benefits of mammography outweigh the risks for pregnant women, due to the increased risks of reproductive cancers.
Mammography Screening - The Myths, Truth and Misconceptions
1. The Myths about Mammography Screening for Breast Cancer
Myth 1: - Mammography is an effective way to screen for breast cancer.
Mammography is not a perfect diagnostic tool. It has a high false positive rate and can lead to unnecessary biopsies, which are also expensive and have their own risks.
Myth 2: Mammograms are accurate in detecting breast cancer in all women.
This is not true because mammograms have a high false positive rate, and can lead to unnecessary biopsies which are expensive and carry their own risks.
2. The Truth about Mammography Screening for Breast Cancer
Mammography is almost 90% accurate in diagnosing breast abnormalities at an early stage for certain women. However, for some women, a mammography screening may not be an accurate diagnostic. In fact, mammography screening may be over-diagnosing cancer and the over-diagnosis rates are as high as 50% in some cases.
In one study, it was found that there was a significant difference in women with invasive breast cancers who were at least 50 years old when screened by mammography compared to women who had a clinical breast exam and did not have mammography screening. The rate of over-diagnosis was about 53% for those women who had mammograms as opposed to 13% for those without them.
3. The Misconceptions about Mammography Screening for Breast Cancer
The misconceptions about mammography screening for breast cancer are as follows:
- A mammogram can prevent you from getting breast cancer
- The radiation from mammograms can cause you to get more cancers
- Mammograms only detect cancers that are large enough to be seen on a mammogram
- Mammograms cannot detect early-stage cancers
What is the cost of a Mammography Screening?
The cost of mammograms can vary depending on the type of machine that’s used for the test. Digital mammography machines are generally more expensive than film-based units.
The costs of a mammography screening vary from $90 to $400, but most insurance plans cover them in full. Mammograms are often scheduled every two years for women aged 50 and older. Younger women might be advised to get one if they have risk factors such as a family history of breast cancer.
How to Prepare for Your Own Mammogram Screening?
The preparation for the mammogram screening includes:
- Hydration - Drink plenty of fluids before the test.
- Clothing - Remove all jewellery, including piercings and watches, as well as any other metal objects on the body. Wear a gown that opens in the front or back and remove anything that is not allowed inside the examination room
- Medications - If you take any medications with instructions to avoid food or drink before taking them, follow the instructions carefully on the day of your mammography screening.
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