Mammograms are a type of x-ray that has the ability to analyze breast tissue and detect breast cancer in its earliest stages. The process will show lumps in the breast before they can be felt and can illuminate tiny calcium clusters that may be indicators of breast cancer or other life-threatening conditions. Women age 40 and older should get a mammogram every 1-2 years. It is advised that if a woman younger than 40 has a history of breast cancer in her direct family, she should talk to her healthcare provider about the benefits of the x-ray.   


How Mammograms Are Performed

In order to perform a mammogram, each breast is flattened between two plastic plates, and is then x-rayed to reveal the breast tissue within. Four x-ray images are captured in total to allow for different views of the tissue. A radiologist will then review the images and look for any abnormalities or changes in the breasts such as calcium deposits or masses that may indicate breast cancer.


What Happens If My Mammogram Is Abnormal?

If the radiologist finds a mass or calcification, this does not always mean a sure sign of cancer. Additional tests, such as an ultrasound or MRI will need to be performed to make an accurate diagnosis. In certain cases, a biopsy may be recommended.


Why Are Mammograms Flawed?   

Despite the desire of detecting breast cancer as early as possible, mammograms and the analysis of x-ray results can be flawed. There are several reasons for flawed testing, which can include:

  • Doctors cannot detect a tumor from the image (false-negative result)
  • Doctors read the screening as cancer and are then proven wrong with additional testing (false-positive result)


Statistics About Breast Cancer

  • In the U.S. alone, 1 in 8 women will develop invasive breast cancer in her lifetime.
  • Roughly 40,920 women in the U.S. are expected to die in 2018 from breast cancer. However, annual death rates have been on a decline since 1989.


As October draws to a close, and so does Breast Cancer Awareness Month, don’t forget to discuss the risks of breast cancer with the important women in your life and make regular check-ups with your physician. The earlier breast cancer is detected, the higher the survival rate. Make it a point to not only get mammograms but routinely do self-breast exams to look for lumps or anything that feels unusual.