Breast cancer screenings are recommended for women beginning at age 50. The risk of breast cancer increases above this age. Women age 50 to 75 are recommended to obtain a mammogram every two years. Women with a higher risk for breast cancer should discuss the starting age of screening and frequency of the mammograms. Your physician may recommend an earlier age to start breast cancer screening or more frequently than every two years.
Not counting some kinds of skin cancer, breast cancer in the United States is:
Having a mammogram is uncomfortable for most women. Some women find it painful. A mammogram takes only a few minutes and the discomfort is over soon. What you feel depends on the skill of the technologist, the size of your breast and how much they need to be pressed. Your breast may be more sensitive if you are about to get or have your period. A doctor with special training called a radiologist will read your mammogram. He or she will look at the X-ray for early signs of breast cancer or other problems.
After your mammogram, you may need to have additional tests. Your physician or the specialist who reviews your X-ray may recommend one of the following.
You will stand in front of a special X-ray machine. A technologist will pace your breast on a clear plastic plate. Another plate will firmly press your breast from above. The plates will hold the breast still while the X-ray is being taken. You will typically feel some pressure. The other breast will be X-rayed in the same way. The steps are then repeated to make a side view of each breast. You will then wait while the technologist checks the four X-rays to make sure the pictures are ready for review and do not need to be redone. Keep in mind that the technologist cannot tell you the results of your mammogram.
If your mammogram results are normal you should continue to be screened every two years or as directed by your physician. Mammograms work best when they can be compared with previous ones. This allows your doctor to compare them to look for changes in your breast.
If your mammogram results are abnormal, do not panic. An abnormal mammogram does not always mean that there is cancer. But, you will need to have addi- tional mammogram tests or other exams before the doctor can tell for sure. You may also be referred to a breast specialist or a surgeon. It does not necessarily mean you have cancer or need surgery. These doctors are experts in diagnosing breast problems.
If breast cancer is diagnosed other tests are done to find out if cancer cells have spread within the breast or to other parts of the body. This process is called staging. Whether the cancer is only in the breast, is found in the lymph nodes under your arm, or has spread outside the breast determines your stage of breast cancer.
How will I get the results of my mammogram?
You will usually get the results within a few weeks. A radiologist reads your mam- mogram and then reports the results to you or your doctor. If there is a concern you will hear from the mammography facility earlier. Contact your physician of- fice or the mammography facility if you do not receive a report of your results within 30 days.
How can I reduce my risk of breast cancer?
Many factors can influence your breast cancer risk. Most women who develop breast cancer do not have any known risk factors or a history of the disease in their families. However, you can help lower your risk of breast cancer in the following ways:
Although breast cancer screening cannot prevent breast cancer, it can help find breast cancer early, when it is easier to treat. Talk to your doctor about which breast cancer screening tests are right for you and when you should have them done.
If you have a family history of breast cancer or inherited changes in your BRCA I and BRCA 2 genes, you may have a higher breast cancer risk. Talk to your doctor about these ways of reducing your risk:
It is important that you know your family history and talk to your doctor about screening and other ways you can lower your risk.
What are the different screening tests?
Breast cancer screening tests check a woman’s breasts for cancer before there are signs or symptoms of the disease. Three main tests are used to screen the breasts for cancer. Talk to your doctor about which tests are right for you and when you should have them.
Having a clinical breast exam or a breast self-exam have not been found to decrease the risk of dying from breast cancer. At this time, the best way to find breast cancer is with a mammogram. If you choose to have clinical breast exams and to perform breast self-exams, be sure you also get mammograms regularly.
Most likely, you can get screened for breast cancer at an MUSC Health clinic, hospital or doctor’s office. Call your doctor’s office. They can help you schedule an appointment. Insurance companies pay for the cost of a preventive breast cancer screening tests.
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