As a follow up to 20 questions with my sister Sam about everything breast exam I wanted to take things a bit further and ask her some questions about the dreaded mammogram. If you missed last week's post about breast self exam you can find it here.
From what I hear the mammogram brings fear to women like the prostate check used to for men, so let's unveil some of the mystery that surrounds mammograms. Here's what Sam had to say :)
First timers usually come into the mammogram room looking absolutely terrified, and, of course you would. There are so many horror stories circulating out there that it just scares people off. The truth is it's not that bad, I know, I've been in the machine.
For starters, does it really feel like having your boobs slammed in a fridge door?
Has anyone actually ever slammed their boobs in a fridge door??? I'm thinking no, because it would hurt. A lot. People, however, have actually had mammograms, and guess what? They survived.
I'm not going to lie, a mammogram is uncomfortable, it is an unnatural position for your breast to be in, it should not, however, be painful. If it is, tell your tech, they should stop applying pressure. If you are prone to tenderness just prior to or during your period, I would suggest going at a different time of the month because that is going to increase your level of discomfort.
So on a scale of 1-10, where 5 is a pap smear…how does it rate in terms of discomfort?
I'd say 5, lets face it neither of them are a walk in the park, but at the end of the day they are just things that have to be done.
What actually happens when you have a mammogram?
A Mammo consists of four pictures, two on each breast. The first position is a straight up and down squash, the second is a more side ways squash. The idea is to compress the breast tissue so that
a) you can keep it nice and still for it's photo and
b) spread out the breast tissue to make sure nothing is hiding in amongst it.
When should women start having mammograms, and how often? Are there some people who should start having them earlier than others?
Breastscreen send all ladies a letter when they turn 50 inviting them for their first mammogram (woohoo! A free boob squash for your birthday!), they will continue to invite you every second year until you are 70 after that you have to book yourself in.
At 40 you can ring up breast screen yourself and start booking yourself in for mammograms they are still free they just won't invite you, you have to remember for yourself, and that is what I would be doing. If you have a family history 35 is a reasonable age for your first mammo.
What are you actually looking at when you perform a mammogram? How early would a mammogram typically ‘see’ a lump before you would feel it?
The radiologist is basically looking for a disruption in the breast tissue that shouldn't be there. They can be seen much sooner than they can be felt MOST of the time. There are exceptions, and it really does depend on the type of breast cancer. Unfortunately, Breast Cancer can be missed on a mammogram.
The stats on breast cancer are fairly high in term of how many women it affects, what are the main risk factors or are we all equally prone?
Genetic predisposition is certainly a large risk factor, however in terms of other risk factors there is much research still going on in this area, much like any other cancer.
If a lump is found, what happens next?
Next we work out what the lump is. Usually this will mean extra mammogram views (though extra views don't necessarily mean that we have discovered something nasty with in your breast! Don't freak out if the tech comes back for more pictures, it could well mean we took a crappy picture, or that we just need to prove that something isn't there.) Next on to ultrasound, if the lump is visable with ultra sound and we are still not able to determine exactly what it is then you will have a biopsy.
More great information from Sam. I hope that you have found these posts as informative as I have.
Given that breasts are Sam's area of speciality as a radiographer feel free to ask her any other questions you might have about breat self exam, mammograms or breast ultrasound here!