October 18 is the US National Mammography Day. To commemorate the day, and to highlight the importance of breast cancer screening, this article gives a quick read of what, why and how.
What is Mammography?
Mammography is a medical imaging technique that uses x-rays to examine the breasts. A mammography exam is called a mammogram. It is useful in the detection and diagnosis of breast cancers.
Types of Mammography
There are two types of mammograms:
Screening Mammogram: This is conducted regularly to detect a tumor in the breasts even if there are no apparent symptoms
Diagnostic Mammogram: This is conducted when your doctor suspects tumor after a screening test or if there are visible symptoms of breast cancer that include breast lumps, or lumps under the arm, nipple discharge, rash, skin irritation or dimpling of the breasts, and retraction of the nipple.
Guidelines from the American Cancer Society recommends women above 40 years of age to have annual screenings. Women with a history of breast cancer in family and genetic history of breast cancer are at high risk, in which case, an MRI is also recommended.
Research proves that annual mammograms help with early detection of breast cancers. When a tumor is spotted during its early stages it may be contained, cured, and breast-conservation therapies are also available.
Diagnostic mammography is recommended when there are abnormal clinical findings like a breast lump or nipple discharge or if screenings show signs of tumor in the breasts. It is usually recommended after a screening mammogram.
How does the procedure work?
In a traditional mammogram, a stationary x-ray tube captures an image from the compressed breast. Advancements in medical technology help image breasts from different angles to evaluate the tumor better and help to treat it more effectively.
These modern systems run operations that have controlled x-ray beams so the dosage is specific and not scattered. This ensures minimal radiation exposure in both screening and diagnostic mammograms. While diagnostic mammograms help determine if symptoms indicate the presence of a tumor, screening mammograms account for a detailed x-ray of the breasts with advanced technology.
Recent Advancements in Mammography
As against a film mammogram, a digital mammogram captures and converts x-ray energy into digital images of the breast.
These systems scan through digitized mammographic images for areas of abnormal tissue, alerting the radiologist to carefully examine the area.
Three-dimensional (3D) mammography and digital breast tomosynthesis (DBT), is an advanced system that takes multiple images of the breast from different angles and reconstructs them into a three-dimensional image set.
Pros and cons of mammography
Screening mammography reduces the risk of tumor that is uncontrollable and terminal
When tumors are small, there are better chances of curing them and more treatment options are available
There is a chance of excess exposure to radiation, but compared to the benefit of the accurate diagnosis, the risk is negligible.
There have been instances of false-positive alarms, which exhorts doctors to probe deeper with additional mammograms or ultrasound, a follow-up, and a biopsy
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