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Mammograms Save Lives

From Dr. Janine Harewood, ‚ÄčOncologist with Lee Health’s Regional Cancer Center.

It’s been just over a month since Hurricane Ian devastated our community. During the time of evacuations and clean-up after the storm, some women may have put off much-needed preventative screenings, like mammograms. If you are due for a mammogram, please schedule your appointment as soon as possible. Breast cancer is the second-most common cancer among women in the United States. The goal is to detect cancer before symptoms manifest. One of the first lines of defense is a regularly scheduled mammogram, especially if there is a family history of the disease.

What is a mammogram?

A mammogram is simply a specialized low-dose X-ray picture of a patient’s breast. It’s an important tool in the fight against breast cancer. A mammogram is what physicians use to look for early signs of the disease. Regular mammograms are the best way to detect breast cancer early. Sometimes, it can be found up to three years before it can be felt.

When should you start getting mammograms?

Screening mammograms are recommended every year for all women starting at age 40. Screening mammograms are done for women who have no signs or symptoms related to the breasts (asymptomatic). Sometimes, if you have certain risk factors you may need to have one done earlier. Be sure to talk to talk to your doctor about when you should get one.

What happens if something is found on your mammogram?

If a physician finds an area of concern on a patient’s mammogram, they’ll be asked to undergo additional imaging. For example, ultrasound imaging. Sometimes, a patient may need to undergo a biopsy procedure to remove a sample of breast tissue for further testing.

What not to do before?

It’s always best to be prepared. For the day of your mammogram, here are some things to keep in mind. Patients should not apply deodorant, antiperspirant, powders, lotions, creams or perfumes under their arms, or on or under their breasts. Some of these items contain substances that could show up on an X-ray as white spots.

What happens during a mammogram?

During a mammogram, a licensed clinician positions and compresses the breast between two clear plates. The plates are attached to a specialized camera that takes X-rays of the breast from two angles. The technique is then repeated on the opposite breast. Please note that some people may need to take more than two pictures.

The breast must be compressed in order to flatten and reduce in thickness. If the breast isn’t compressed enough during a mammogram, overlapping healthy tissues can look like cancer and if it goes undetected, healthy tissue can hide cancer and leave it undetected.

Is a mammogram painful?

Some women choose to skip regular mammograms because the possibility of discomfort makes them feel stressed or anxious. The compression doesn’t last long and many women find the process only mildly uncomfortable.

Even though mammograms aren’t inherently painful, it’s a good rule of thumb not to schedule them a week or two before your period when your breasts are more likely to be tender.

How long does it take?

A mammogram only takes about 30 minutes and it’ll be over before you know it. The compression part doesn’t last long at all, either. Each of your breasts will be flattened for only 20 to 30 seconds.

A quick procedure could save your life. Many women who find out they have breast cancer do not have a family history of the disease. The only way to know for sure is to get regular mammograms.

To learn more about our services or to schedule a mammogram screening online, visit leehealth.org.