A mammogram is an x-ray picture of the breast, and can be used to check for breast cancer in women who don’t display any signs or symptoms of the illness. This particular type of mammogram is called a screening mammogram and usually involves two x-ray images of each breast. These x-ray pictures allow for the detection of tumours that can’t be felt. Screening mammograms are also able to detect microcalcifications, also known as tiny pockets of calcium which may indicate breast cancer.
Diagnostic mammograms on the other hand, are used to check for the presence of breast cancer after a lump or other symptoms have been found. Signs of breast cancer include nipple discharge, breast pains, or a noticeable change in breast size or shape. It’s important to note that these symptoms can sometimes be signs of less malignant conditions and as such, it’s always important to go for a mammogram!
It goes without saying that the early detection of breast cancer with screening mammography means that the chances of preventing its spread are higher. Results from randomized clinical trials and other studies show that screening mammography can help reduce the number of deaths from breast cancer among women ages 40 to 74, especially for those over age 50.
Checking one’s own breasts for lumps or other unexpected changes are insufficient and cannot replace screening mammograms or clinical breast exams. Women who do this should keep in mind that breast changes occur because of varied reasons, from aging, pregnancy, to menstrual cycles.
Also, it is common for breasts to be swollen and tender right before or during a menstrual period. If a woman notices any unusual changes in her breasts, she should contact her doctor immediately.