Thursday, February 9, 2012

Getting into a Mammogram Mood

     If you’re a woman over the age of 40, you know the importance of an annual mammogram. The mammogram is part of your due diligence on wellness. But let’s be honest, getting a mammogram scheduled on your calendar means overcoming the fear of the unknown (do I have breast cancer?) and the anticipation of a slightly unpleasant appointment.

     Until scientists come up with a magical pill to prevent breast cancer, committing to a mammogram is one of the most important things you can do for yourself. Here are a few tips to make your mammogram go as smoothly as possible.

      Talk to your doctor about why it’s important to have a mammogram. While experts disagree on when and how often women should begin their mammograms, the American Cancer Society and American College of Radiology both recommend an annual screening beginning at age 40. Let your family history and physician be your guide.

     Sift through myths and hype. Do women who drink more than five cups of coffee a day decrease their chance of developing breast cancer? Does caffeine cause breasts to swell or appear lumpy? Radiologist Kerri Hesley, of Diagnostic Imaging Services, says there’s no definite linkage in either of these findings. Cutting back on caffeine two weeks before your mammogram may reduce breast tenderness and pain. Try it to see if it works for you, says Dr. Hesley.

     Prepare for some discomfort. The actual mammogram takes about five minutes to perform with each compression lasting five to ten seconds—a brave attitude and two ibuprofens can get you by. Avoid scheduling a mammogram a week before your period and during your period, when women’s breasts tend to be most tender.

     Bring your prior mammogram images with you if this is your first time to a particular imaging facility. Radiologists like to have a “baseline” or a “before” picture of your breasts.

     Don’t use deodorant – or wipe it off before your mammogram. According to Dr. Hesley,  the metallic particles in powders and deodorant can show up on your mammogram and cause confusion.

     Don’t assume you have cancer. Dense breasts and a “mass” don’t necessarily spell cancer. A lump could be a cyst (a fluid-filled sac), and dense breasts, which have more glandular than fatty tissue, are more challenging for radiologists to interpret. In either situation, the radiologist may want more pictures of your breasts, an ultrasound, or further testing. In the vast majority of callbacks, says Dr. Hesley, it’s benign or normal tissue.

     Look, there are a lot of things in life that aren’t so pleasurable (cleaning your garage, paying your taxes, getting a root canal), but in the end, a mammogram gives you peace of mind. And if there’s an off chance that you do have breast cancer, catching the disease early—before any symptoms appear—is the best way to beat it. 

     If you are uninsured or underinsured, visit the Make a Difference program to see when there is a free screening in your area, or call 301.665.4671.

By Anne Gill

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