The facts about mammography
As I’m sure many of you know October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. As a radiologic technologist with over twenty years experience, I wanted to bring the readers of My Best of Both Worlds the facts about mammography as to what you expect when you have your mammography. Hopefully this will dispel some fears and get you to make your appointment if you haven’t already done so!
What is mammography or mammogram?
A mammogram is an X-ray or radiograph of the human breast. The Radiologic Technologist (RT) utilizes low-dose X-rays to produce these detailed images. Mammography aids in the early detection of breast cancer.
Why did my doctor order a mammography?
Your doctor ordered a mammography usually as part of your yearly check up for:
- Women 40 years of age and over
- To complement the doctor’s manual breast exam as well as the patient’s monthly self exams
- A doctor also orders mammography because he or she feels a lump or thickening in your breast
Who performs and interprets my mammography?
A qualified Radiologic Technologist (RT) licensed by New York State who is also qualified in performing mammography will perform your mammogram. A radiologist will interpret your mammogram. A radiologist is a doctor specializing in radiology, including such imaging modalities as mammography, MRI, ultrasound, nuclear medicine and CT scan. These doctors specialize in the imaging and diagnosis of disease. Interpretation of a mammography requires expertise in pattern recognition and in the identification of potential artifacts that may otherwise be mistaken for pathology. The radiologists at Mercy Medical Center are board certified by the American Board of Radiology and have years of experience in the imaging field.
How is a mammography performed?
The Radiologic Technologist (RT) will escort you to a dressing room where you will be instructed to remove all clothing from the waist up and to put a hospital gown on with the opening in the front. You will be asked if you wore powder or deodorant; if so, you will be instructed to wash it off. (Powder and deodorant show up on the mammographic films). The technologist will go over a history form completed by you in the waiting room. Any scars, blemishes or moles will be recorded on this form. The technologist will also place adhesive markers on your nipples as well as moles and scars. Your breasts will be carefully imaged one at a time in two different views. The breast tissue will be gently pulled on to the film and compressed with a paddle made of clear plastic. After all views are completed the technologist will run your film through the processor. A radiologist will view the films taken and make a decision if you need more views, different views and/or an ultrasound of the breast. Doing extra views or an ultrasound of the breast does not necessarily mean something is wrong. The radiologist may need more views or an ultrasound to assure he or she has enough information to give you and your doctor an accurate reading.
What should I do to prepare for the mammography?
To prepare for a mammography you must not wear any powder, perfume or deodorant in the chest or underarm area. If this is not your very first mammography you must obtain your last set of mammography films, so the radiologist can compare them with the current exam.
What are the risks?
Mammography uses low-dose ionizing radiation. The technologists are experts in utilizing the minimal dose to achieve optimal results. Lead shields are used and the mammography equipment is routinely inspected by the New York State Department of Health for Safety. The mammography staff, as well as equipment, are reviewed, inspected and approved by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) and American College of Radiology (ACR) and follow the guidelines of the Mammography Quality Standards Act (MQSA).
What are the alternatives?
There is no replacement for a mammography. Sometimes an ultrasound or MRI of the breast is done to complement the mammography.
What happens with the results?
The radiologist will generate a written report, which will be sent to the doctor that referred you for the mammogram. You will receive a letter from the radiologist with your results written in terms you can understand. The mammogram and report become part of your medical record. The mammography is the property of the institution, as are blood samples or biopsy slides. The original mammograms are loaned out to the patient if need be, at no cost, but the patient is responsible to return originals so they can be used as comparison for the next time.