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All About Mammograms

A mammogram is a low-dose x-ray exam of the breasts in order to identify changes that are abnormal. This allows your provider a deeper look at breast tissue that cannot be felt during a breast exam. It's recommended that women ages 50 to 74 receive a mammogram every 2 years, and those that are younger should discuss with their provider on when to start (and how often to receive) a mammogram.

During a mammogram, the patient stands in front of a special x-ray machine. A radiologic technician places your breasts, one at a time, between an x-ray plate and a plastic plate. These plates are attached to the x-ray machine and compress your breasts to flatten them. This allows the breast tissue to spread out so that your provider can get a clearer picture of the tissue. You will feel pressure on your breasts for a few seconds, and it may cause mild discomfort as if being squeezed or pinched. Most often, two images of each breast are taken- one from the side, and one from above. A mammogram screening takes approximately 20 minutes from start to finish.

Mammograms are able to show lumps and masses in the breasts, as well as calcification. The size, shape, and edges of a lump sometimes give your provider information on whether or not it may be cancer. On a mammogram, a growth that is benign often appears smooth and round, with a clear and defined edge. Breast cancer often appears with a jagged outline and irregular shape. A calcification is a deposit of the calcium mineral in the breast tissue. These appear as small white spots on a mammogram. Calcifications may be either macrocalcifications, or large calcium deposits (often caused by aging), or macrocalcifications, which are tiny specks of calcium that may be found in an area of rapidly dividing cells. When calcifications are grouped together in a certain way, it may be a sign of cancer.

To prepare for a mammogram, make sure to follow any special instructions from your provider. If you're still on a menstrual cycle, try to avoid being screened the week before your period. This will help your breasts not be as tender and swollen, and allows the mammogram picture to be clearer. If you have breast implants, make sure your provider knows of them when making the appointment. Wear a top that you can easily get on and off the day of your appointment, and try to avoid wearing deodorant, lotion, powder, and perfume under your arms that day as these can often show as shadows on a mammogram. If you've received a mammogram at another facility, have them send images over to your current facility so that they can be compared. To schedule a mammogram at Murray County Medical Center, call (507) 836-6111.

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