Mammography is a low dose x-ray that provides an image of the internal structure of the breast. It is a screening method for detecting (in patients with no symptoms) and diagnosing breast cancer (in those with symptoms).
Mammography can be used to detect and monitor various masses. Having access to previous mammograms is especially helpful when comparing results. It is therefore recommended that you continue to consult the same radiology facility.
During a mammography, the patient is asked to stand, while undressed from the waist up. The breast is gently placed on a platform and compressed between two plates. Two images are taken - one at 45 degrees, the other laterally. Each breast is compressed for 10 to 15 seconds and the entire process lasts about 15 minutes. Compressing the breasts is necessary as it ensures detailed images that are of good quality. It also serves to separate superimposed structures, limit movement of the breast and ensures the use of the smallest amount of radiation possible.
What is the purpose of this test?
Breast cancer is one of the leading causes of cancer-related deaths among Canadian women. The risk of developing this type of cancer increases with age. When detected early, one has access to more treatment options, not to mention greater chances for successful recovery. That being said, mammography is an important tool for early detection.
Complementary to breast self-exams, mammography can detect lumps that are too small to detect with a physical exam alone. In Quebec, the Breast Cancer Screening Program recommends that women over the age of 50 have mammographies every two years. Physicians may recommend that women with a personal or family history of breast cancer begin screening at an earlier age, in addition to having a mammography every year. A mammography is highly recommended if you experience any pain or feel a lump in either breast.
- There are no special dietary requirements for this examination.
- Avoid wearing accessories that could hinder the mammography (jewellery, deodorant, body lotion, perfume, powder). These products can affect the accuracy of the images and can be mistaken for lesions.
- It is recommended that you not wear a dress since you will have to undress from the waist up.
- To reduce any discomfort or pain in the breasts, avoid coffee, tea, chocolate and dark cola for two weeks leading up to the examination. It is also recommended, for the same reason, that you schedule your mammography within the ten days following the start of your period.
What does an abnormal result mean?
When looking at the results, the physician may notice a cyst, abscess, nipple inflammation, benign or malignant lump or benign or malignant microcalcification. However, nine times out of ten, results are normal. One time out of ten, additional imaging is performed.
Factors that affect interpretation of result
Breast implants and prior breast surgery can interfere with the interpretation of mammograms. There is no risk of rupturing breast implants during a mammography.
What to know before going for this test
Before going for a blood test, examination or other, it is always a good idea for you to have a complete list of all prescription or over the counter medications and/or natural products you may be taking. If you are unsure or have any questions, your pharmacist will be able provide you with additional information.
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The patient information leaflets are provided by Vigilance Santé Inc. This content is for information purposes only and does not in any manner whatsoever replace the opinion or advice of your health care professional. Always consult a health care professional before making a decision about your medication or treatment.