In some women, breast cancer is diagnosed after the symptoms appear; in others, the cancer has no signs, which is why breast cancer screening is important. A mammogram is a test for detecting precancerous cells and other abnormal changes in breast tissue, and it is helpful for breast cancer screening or diagnostic purposes. Here is an overview of breast cancer screening and what happens during a screening session.
What is a mammogram?
A mammogram refers to an x-ray image of your breast and can be used for screening or diagnostic purposes, for instance, ascertaining the results of another imaging test. During the test, your breasts are compressed between two surfaces and spread out. Then an x-ray device captures the images of the breast tissue and displays them on a computer screen for the doctor to examine.
A traditional mammogram results in 2D images of the breast, while the modern type known as breast tomosynthesis or 3D mammogram creates 3D images of the breast for examination. Many healthcare facilities offer both for breast cancer screening.
A screening mammogram
The role of a screening mammogram is to detect abnormal breast changes that could be cancerous in women with no signs or symptoms. Hong Kong breast cancer screening reduces the risks of dying due to breast cancer since it detects abnormal cells early when they are treatable. The test can detect breast cancer even before it shows symptoms, reducing the deaths caused by a late breast cancer diagnosis.
It is best to undergo routine breast cancer screening from age 21. You should also consult your healthcare provider about how often you should take the test, risk factors, preferences, and the risks of screening. That way, you can determine the ideal screening schedule for you. You should also ask your doctor about self-tests to help discover any breast abnormalities.
A doctor uses a diagnostic mammogram to examine suspicious breast changes such as breast pain, a lump, nipple discharge, nipple thickening, unusual skin appearance around the breast, etc. The test also comes in handy for investigating unusual findings during a breast cancer screening.
How to prepare for a breast cancer screening session
Preparing adequately for a mammogram ensures that the test is accurate and successful. Doctors recommend scheduling a breast cancer screening when your breasts are likely to be tender. That is one week after your period.
If you are going to a new facility for a mammogram, it is advisable to bring your previous mammogram images. They should be on a CD so your radiologist can compare the last test with the new one. Also, avoid using creams, lotions, powders, deodorants, antiperspirants, or perfumes under the arms or on your breasts before the screening. The presence of metal parts in the products may appear in a mammogram image and cause confusion.
What to expect
When you go in for a Hong Kong breast cancer screening, a healthcare professional will ask you to undress above your waist and remove any neck jewelry. During the test, you stand in front of a mammography x-ray machine. The radiologist places your breasts on the platform and adjusts it according to your height. They must position your head, arm, and torso to allow an unobstructed view of the breasts.
A transparent plastic plate gradually presses your breasts against the platform to spread your breast tissue. The breast is compressed to even out its thickness so that the X-rays show deeper images. It also holds your breasts still to reduce blurring from the movement and cut down the dose of radiation needed. The pressure is not harmful but may cause discomfort, which you should inform your doctor of if it is unbearable.
The x-ray produces images of your breast, and the doctor may ask you to wait as the team checks the quality. You may have to retake the test if the pictures are not examinable. A mammogram may take less than 30 minutes, and you can resume your activities after the test.
The results of mammography are white and black images of your breast tissues. A doctor whose specialty is interpreting the images examines them to look for evidence of breast cancer or abnormal changes in your breasts. They may also point out evidence of other conditions that require attention or follow-up tests. Then they compile it into a report and send it to your healthcare provider.
If diagnosed with breast cancer, further tests follow to determine the cancer stage. The stage refers to how extended the cancer is beyond the breast. It may be early-stage breast cancer, a locally advanced one, or a highly advanced one.
The treatment options for breast cancer are surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. Surgery to remove the affected tissue works if the cancer has not spread to the surrounding parts. Sometimes doctors recommend using a combination of therapies to increase the chances of successful treatment. At this point, the Hong Kong cancer fund provides more support.
Some risks and limitations of mammograms
Although a mammogram helps detect breast cancer early, it also has some limitations.
- It exposes you to low-dose radiation. However, the long-term benefits outweigh the short-term radiation.
- You may need additional testing if any unusual breast changes are detected in your breasts. Although most of the changes detected on a mammogram are not always cancer, ultrasound or biopsy may be necessary to make that conclusion.
- A screening mammogram may not detect all breast cancers. For instance, it may miss cancer that is too small or located in a position that is difficult to view in mammography. In that case, a physical examination and other tests may be needed.
- Some breast cancers are aggressive and spread quickly; therefore, not all cancers found through mammography can be cured.
Breast cancer screening has gone a long way in reducing breast cancer cases since it helps detect abnormal changes in the breast early. Learning more about self-tests for breast cancer is also advisable to regularly examine yourself for unusual breast changes that may lead to breast cancer.