Mammogram myths debunked (or why you shouldn’t panic)

Health & Fitness

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This story is brought to you by Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center, the largest medical facility in the region. EIRMC’s priority is to provide the highest level of care.

Mammograms are the first line of defense against breast cancer. They’ve helped reduce breast cancer mortality rates in the United States by nearly 40 percent since 1990. So why are so many women avoiding them?

They may have gotten bad information.

Let’s debunk some of the myths, with some help from the University of Utah.

Myth 1: There’s no need to get a mammogram if you don’t have a history of breast cancer in your family.

Roughly 85 percent of women who are diagnosed with breast cancer have no family history of the disease. To add to this staggering statistic, 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with the cancer in their lifetime. Luckily, a mammogram can detect signs of breast diseases even before symptoms occur.

Myth 2: A mammogram takes too long and is extremely painful.

This is simply not true. The exam typically takes less than 30 minutes. You might experience some discomfort, but it’s short-lived.

Myth 3: You don’t need yearly exams.

The American College of Radiology recommends annual screening mammograms for all women over 40. Make sure you are communicating with your provider on when the best time for you to get a mammogram is and how often to repeat them. Breast cancer risk increases with age. Two out of three cases of invasive breast cancer is found in women over 55.

Don’t forget, even if you are younger than 40, you should still be doing a breast self-exam and seeing your doctor regularly.

Myth 4: The radiation from a mammogram is unsafe.

Mammograms use very low, safe doses of radiation. Because a mammography is a screening tool, it’s highly regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. We are exposed to constant background radiation daily. The radiation dose from a mammogram equals roughly two months of background radiation for an average women.

What actually happens

If you’re still a little nervous to schedule that mammogram, take a look at what to expect during the exam. You’ll fill out some paperwork, be taken back to a changing area and given a gown. You will keep your bottoms on.

Then, you’ll enter directly into the mammo room (no one sees you in that glamourous gown top!). The certified mammography technologist will walk you through the exam from there.

There’s a tall 3D mammogram machine where you’ll be standing. The technologist will move between you and a computer terminal that is viewing the images as they are taken.

The technologist will place one breast on a “tray” that raises or lowers depending upon your height. She’ll position your breast, head, arms and torso to get the best test results.

Your breast is then pressed against the tray by a clear plate. You’ll feel some pressure for a few seconds as your breast tissue is spread out. Most women find it uncomfortable, but not necessarily painful. The technologist will also continue to ask you if you’re comfortable with the pressure. If you’re not, say so!

The technologist will then direct you to hold your breath for a few seconds as the image is taken. The X-ray arm sweeps in a slight arc over the breast, taking multiple breast images in just seconds.

She’ll reposition you a few times to get different views of each breast.

With the 3D image technology, the radiologist is able to view your breast tissue in one millimeter layers, compared to one flat image, like a 2D mammogram.

If you’re still nervous about having a mammogram, contact Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center. Their technologists are happy to share their insights, especially if it makes the test more comfortable for you. Call (208) 535-4555.

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