Mammography is a type of imaging that uses a low-dose x-ray system to examine breast tissue. A mammography exam – also called a mammogram – can be used to aid the diagnosis of breast diseases in women. Recent enhancements to traditional mammography include digital mammography and computer-aided detection.
Digital mammography – an image of the breast captured electronically and viewed on a computer screen – can be particularly effective at detecting breast cancer, especially in younger women and those with denser breast tissue.
Why is digital mammography important?
Women often tend to put their own well-being on hold while they care for their families. Unfortunately, breast cancer is not something a person can put on hold, and it can have a significant and lasting impact if not detected and treated early. But a 15-minute digital mammogram can help offer peace of mind and a whole lifetime to spend with loved ones.
The greatest risk factors for breast cancer are uncontrollable – age and gender. Women have the highest risk, and their risk increases with age. Risk also doubles if a woman’s immediate relative – mother, sister or daughter – has been diagnosed with breast cancer.
Early detection of breast cancer is key. When breast cancer is found in its early stages, breast tissue can often be conserved through minimally invasive surgery called lumpectomy. Cancer can also be more responsive to treatment during early stages.
The American Cancer Society continues to stress the importance of self-examination and yearly mammograms for women 40 years of age and older. Despite breast cancer rates of one in eight among women in the United States, deaths related to breast cancer have been decreasing since 1990 due to increased awareness, advances in treatment and early detection through tools like digital mammography.
Coverage for digital mammography
Most insurance plans cover annual screening mammograms. Self-pay options are also available, and financial assistance may be offered based on income. Programs like Project ABC, a partnership between the Tri-Cities affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, Wellmont and local health departments, are designed to make screening mammograms accessible to all women, regardless of income level. Women can contact their local health department for more information about Project ABC.
Facilities offering digital mammography and advanced breast screening services
This includes the addition of MRI breast coil technology at Holston Valley Medical Center and Bristol Regional Medical Center and updated computer-assisted detection devices at Wellmont facilities.
Preparing for a mammogram
- It is very important if you are pregnant or may be pregnant to inform your physician and the mammography center personnel prior to the mammogram procedure.
- A mammogram should not be scheduled during the week before a woman’s menstrual cycle, when the breasts are typically more tender or swollen. This can impair the quality of a mammogram. The best time to have the procedure is one week following a woman’s menstrual cycle.
- Patients should arrive at least 15 minutes prior to their scheduled procedure time to complete paperwork and change clothes.
- Patients should not use deodorant, talcum powder or lotion on the day of the procedure. Particles from these substances can show up on the mammogram image and may cause a false reading.
- Some patients prefer to take acetaminophen or ibuprofen prior to their visit to help minimize the discomfort that can be associated with pressure on the breasts during mammography.
- Patients should bring the written prescription provided by their physician for the procedure.
- Upon arrival at the center, patients will be escorted into a private exam room and asked to disrobe from the waist up. Therefore, patients are encouraged to wear pants, shorts or a skirt on the day of the procedure.
- Patients are strongly encouraged to ask questions and discuss any concerns they may have prior to the procedure. Wellmont strongly believes that communication with patients is an important part of digital mammography.