Mammograms are x-rays of the breast. Screening mammograms, which are performed when there is no reason to suspect breast cancer and are routine after the age of 40 for most women (earlier if you have a higher than average risk for breast cancer and/or a family history of the condition), are used to detect breast changes including tissue abnormalities and/or tumors that can’t be otherwise seen or felt. They can also uncover microcalcifications (tiny deposits of calcium) that are often indicative of breast cancer. Mammograms are one of the best ways to catch the disease illness. Early detection is vitally important to managing and even beating breast cancer.

Diagnostic mammograms are conducted when an original breast x-ray shows a lump or there is some other sign or symptom that the patient may have breast cancer such as nipple discharge, skin thickening and/or pain. Diagnostic mammograms may be required for women with breast implants so that the doctor can get a fuller picture of what’s going on. Generally, diagnostic mammograms take longer than those of the screening variety as they take shots of the breast from more angles.

Studies have shown that mammograms, although they don’t prevent the illness, can lower an invidual’s risk of dying of the disease by nearly 35%.

Many women are afraid of undergoing the procedure. Generally speaking, a mammogram lasts less than 15 minutes. There is a tiny amount of exposure to radiation during the process…and the benefits far outweigh the risks.

Of course, mammograms aren’t perfect. Occasionally, a false negative does occur. In addition to mammography, a woman should learn how to do a breast self-examination and receive a regular breast exam from his/her doctor. Ultrasound technology an MRI imaging can also help detect breast abnormalities if the mammogram is inconclusive.