Mammograms are probably the most important tool doctors have not just to screen for breast cancer, but to diagnose, evaluate and follow up on women who have had the disease.
It is simply an X-ray examination of the breast performed with special equipment that can often find tumors too small to be felt with the hand. A mammogram is the best radiographic method available today to detect breast cancer early and strongly recommended for women over 40 for whom the risk of breast cancer is increased.
Like the fears associated with breast cancer itself, some women experience considerable anxiety over the mammogram and the prospect of discovering a tumor, so we would like to take this opportunity to assure you that the procedure is quick and easy, that most breast disorders are not cancer, and that among cancer cases, more than 90% are curable if detected early and treated promptly. Several studies have shown that mammograms reduce breast cancer deaths by more than a third.
How It Works
Traditional mammography was performed with a specialized X-ray machine, and film processing and development were rigorously controlled to assure the best image quality. The procedure is not painful, though some women felt a momentary light discomfort from the delicate pressing to the breast that was formerly required to obtain clear and precise images. To visualize the internal structure of the breast, two X-rays were taken of each breast, providing two views that clearly showed the structure of the breast.
Fifty Years of Progress
Mammography began in 1960, but the process as we know it today has only existed since 1969 when the first X-ray units dedicated to breast imaging became available. By 1976, mammography as a screening procedure had become standard practice, and techniques continue to improve as lower doses of radiation are detecting ever smaller potential problems earlier.
Research centers around the world are constantly developing new technologies to detect breast tumors and improve conventional mammography, including the state-of-the-art digital mammography performed at Bangkok Hospital that requires less radiation and offers the highest accuracy and efficiency available today while eliminating the discomfort we spoke about earlier.
Early screenings through mammography performed by the specialized and highly trained breast radiologists at Bangkok Hospital allow doctors to detect early breast cancer when it is most treatable.
A mammogram can detect over 85% of breast tumors, and results are even better if the screening is conducted in conjunction with a physical exam (for more on this, see An Ounce of Prevention in this eNews).
During the physical exam, your doctor will look carefully at your breasts while you are sitting and lying down. She will request that you raise your arms over your head or let them hang down, checking for any changes in the skin, any discharge from the nipples, or any difference in appearance between the two breasts.
Then, using the tips of her fingers, she will look for lumps, examining the entire breast, underarm and collarbone areas. The physical exam is another extremely valuable tool for diagnosing breast cancer in the early stage when it is possible to remove only a small part of the breast with a very high probability of cure in a procedure known as breast conserving surgery.