If you’re due for a mammogram, you might be wondering if they’re actually necessary. The short answer is yes, as they can help diagnose cancer, so it can be treated. Mammograms and other tests like them help save lives. But what does this test actually look at? Here’s what to know.
A mammogram is a special type of x-ray that’s used on the breast tissue. Doctors trained in what these x-rays look like will review them to make sure there aren’t any abnormalities. If something doesn’t look right you may need to have a follow-up test, which will help confirm whether there’s any kind of problem. If you have a cyst, dense breast tissue, or other medical anomalies, it’s good to ensure that they’re not harmful, and that there’s no breast cancer present.
There are now digital and computer-aided mammography options, too, and these can provide a higher degree of accuracy when determining whether there are any concerns. Screening mammograms look at the breast to see if there are any unusual areas, or changes from the last mammogram. If something is found, or if you have a history of breast cancer, a diagnostic mammogram may be used to more carefully examine the area.
There are lobes, lobules, and bulbs in the breast, all designed in a pattern that allows milk to flow to the ducts. Most of the space in between these areas is filled with fat, along with blood vessels and other vessels that are part of the lymphatic system. Mammograms can help detect tumors and other abnormalities in the breasts that can’t be felt, even if there aren’t any outward symptoms.
Mammograms are typically recommended beginning at age 40, but they can also be used for younger women if there are concerns about the health of their breasts. By working with your medical provider you can get the information you need about mammograms in your specific situation. Whether you need them earlier, more often, or have specific precautions regarding them, it’s a good idea to be clear about your risks and the value this diagnostic tool can provide.
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