Mammograms may not be your favorite thing to do, but they’re still an important part of women’s health care. Mammograms are special x-rays that look at the breast tissue. They can be a helpful screening tool to look for signs of breast cancer. Now, you may have a lot of questions about mammograms, including whether you still need them after menopause and what to expect. So, let’s talk about mammograms in general, why you need them, when you need them, and how they work.
Why do doctors recommend getting regular mammograms? Essentially, they can help with screening and early detection of breast cancer.
Mammograms can help detect abnormalities before you can even feel them during a breast exam or experience symptoms. Early detection is important because it can help reduce risks, increase the chances of survival. It can also help open up more treatment options.
Therefore, most health experts recommend regular mammograms as an important breast cancer screening tool. Also, since mammograms can help with early detection, many insurance plans cover these screenings (though you should always check your specific policy to be certain).
What exactly does the radiologist look for in the mammogram images? There are many things they may be on the lookout for, including:
Calcifications are mineral deposits in the breasts. These are pretty common and can be either benign or malignant. Things like aging, injuries, and benign cysts can all cause calcifications. However, they can also be caused by dead abnormal cells building up and becoming hard, which may be an early indication of breast cancer.
Masses include cysts and tumors. Once again, these can be fairly common and don’t necessarily mean you have breast cancer. In fact, most breast cysts and tumors are benign. However, since some can be cancerous, the radiologist will look for signs of these masses in your mammogram.
Also, if you have records of previous mammograms, the radiologist may also compare them to look for changes that might be concerning. Having these past images may help the radiologist detect changes that might require additional screenings. Therefore, if you change to a different women’s health clinic, you may want to request your records be sent to your new provider to help with this process.
Now, you might wonder if you still need mammograms after menopause. The answer is typically yes.
As we mentioned, you should talk to one of our medical professionals about your personal situation. However, it’s important to understand that the risk for breast cancer increases as we age. In fact, research estimates most breast cancers are found in women who are over 50. So, mammograms are still important after menopause for most women.
Of course, not every woman has the same needs, even when it comes to mammograms. So, talk to one of our doctors about mammograms and how often you need one after menopause.
General mammogram guidelines for women with average breast cancer risk recommend:
However, these recommendations don’t fit every single woman’s individual risks, benefits, and needs. Therefore, it’s important to discuss mammograms and mammogram frequency with your health care provider based on your situation. One of our women’s health care providers can discuss your medical history, risk factors, overall health, and more to help create a personalized plan for mammogram frequency.
Your age and menopausal status may help you and our health care provider determine how often you should get mammograms. After menopause, you might be able to switch to getting mammograms every two years instead of every year. This depends on many different factors. However, some research suggests that after menopause, women tend to have slower-growing breast cancers than premenopausal women. This may mean that you can reduce mammogram frequency to every two years, though you should talk to our doctors about your risks and individual circumstances.
If you’re going in for your first mammogram, you might feel a little nervous. Knowing what to expect can help, so let’s talk about what to expect before, during, and after your mammogram.
There’s not much you need to do to prepare for a mammogram after you schedule the appointment. Most women find it’s more comfortable to wear a two piece outfit that day, as you’ll have to undress from the waist up for the mammogram.
Also, it’s important not to wear deodorant, powder, lotion, or perfumes anywhere on or around the breasts the day of your mammogram. This is because these products can leave behind small particles that can show up on the mammogram and may look like calcifications or other potential concerns. Therefore, a good rule of thumb is not to apply anything to your breasts, underarms, or surrounding areas the day of your mammogram.
Now, of course, this is a routine for many women. If you forget and realize you have deodorant or other products on, just let us know during check-in. In some cases, you may be able to remove the products enough with a cleaning cloth to still go ahead with your mammogram.
The mammogram itself takes typically around 30 minutes. The mammographer will place your breast onto a plate and another plate compresses the breast to help with imaging. Some women might feel some discomfort with the compression, but speak up if you feel pain, especially if you experience severe pain. The compression lasts anywhere from a few seconds to a little less than a minute for each image. Most mammograms include at least two images for each breast.
After your mammogram, the images go to a radiologist who “reads” them. The office will typically contact you within a week to give you your results. The results might include explaining your breast density score, any areas of concern, or simply when the doctor recommends you have your next mammogram.
Sometimes, you may need to come back for additional imaging, such as another mammogram, a breast ultrasound, or even a breast MRI. This is actually fairly common, with an estimated 5-15% of women getting called back for more images. So, while it might be concerning to you, try not to worry too much and work with your women’s health care provider to schedule the extra screening to learn more. Most repeat mammograms and breast images don’t detect cancer, so keep this in mind if you get called back after your mammogram.
Often, if the mammogram images aren’t clear, parts of the breasts were left out of the images, or if the radiologist sees an area that might be a concern, then they’ll recommend additional tests to look at the area more closely.
In some cases, if you have dense breasts, then your provider may also recommend additional imaging. Dense breasts are essentially breasts that have a higher ratio of breast tissue to fat. Dense breasts are fairly common, but they can make detecting issues on mammogram images a little more difficult and they also increase your risk for breast cancer. Therefore, in many cases, you may need additional tests done as part of your breast cancer screening. Your doctor will help you determine next steps based on your specific situation and risk factors.
Looking for a women’s health care provider that understands? We’re a women’s health clinic owned and managed by women for women. Our goal is to help you address your wellness at every stage of life. We are here to help empower you to take control of your health today. Whether you need a well woman check up or are dealing with concerning symptoms, make an appointment today to discuss your health with our medical team.