A mammogram is an X-ray of the breast which serves as a diagnostic tool to detect breast cancer. It’s also one of the most common procedures performed at some point during a woman’s life. While many benefits can be found in mammograms, they aren’t all perfect. One of the downsides to the procedure is the amount of radiation which is inevitably absorbed by the patient’s body. In addition to being potentially harmful, too much radiation also increases the patient’s risk of cancer.
With the development of digital mammograms, specifically in the form of a mobile app, the possibility of less radiation exposure became a reality. A digital mammogram uses a small amount of radiation which is just enough to create an image. In some cases, it can even be done without the need for the patient to leave the location where they were when the picture was taken.
While a traditional mammogram requires the patient to come in for a series of X-rays at a fixed location, digital mammograms allow the radiologist or physician to access the medical data recorded by the device at any given location. This makes it much easier for healthcare providers to read film while on the move and reduces the potential for errors. In other words, fewer things can go wrong with digital mammograms as compared to the classic “analog” version.
Why Should Patients Avoid Going Over 24 Months Without A Mammogram?
It’s well-known that the American Cancer Society recommends getting a mammogram every two years. While this can be a helpful rule of thumb, it doesn’t apply to everyone. For instance, women who have gone through menopause and are no longer producing significant amounts of breast tissue should not be tested as often as others. In fact, the Society recommends that these women wait at least 24 months before getting a mammogram.
There could be several reasons why you should avoid going over 24 months without a mammogram. For example, if you are of Asian descent and have a family history of breast cancer, you may want to get a mammogram sooner rather than later.
In some cases, a woman’s risk of breast cancer can increase if she has gone more than 24 months without getting a mammogram. In order to reduce this risk, it’s a good idea to get one done every two years.
The Downsides To Having A Mammogram
Like any other medical procedure, there are negative aspects to having a mammogram as well. As mentioned above, one of the downsides to the procedure is the amount of radiation which is inevitably absorbed by the patient’s body. In some cases, this can be quite high. In 1999, the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements issued a report stating that a one-time exposure of 20 millisieverts was enough to cause cancer. While this might sound like a lot, it’s worth noting that a chest X-ray which results in a dose of 2.5 millisiesverts is considered normal. So there’s no need to be overly concerned about this level of exposure.
In some cases, a woman’s body mass index (BMI) can affect the way in which she absorbs radiation. The American Cancer Society recommends that healthcare providers avoid guessing a woman’s BMI and instead rely on the numbers which the patient provides. Obese women are more likely to absorb higher levels of radiation than those of normal weight. This is why healthcare professionals should be sure to ask patients about their height, weight, and lifestyle before administering any type of X-ray.
In addition to increasing the risk of cancer, too much radiation can also cause other problems. Studies have shown that there is an increased risk of both breast and ovarian cancer if a woman has had four or more mammograms. The radiation absorbed by the ovaries can also delay or prevent puberty in young girls, and it’s known to cause other reproductive problems as well. This is why the American Cancer Society recommends that women under the age of 40 avoid getting mammograms. In their words, “these procedures should not be done in asymptomatic women.”
Whether You Should Get A Mammogram Or Not
The best thing for a patient is for their physician to have enough information to make an informed decision about whether or not they should get a mammogram. This information should include things such as:
- Your personal and family history of breast cancer
- Any risk factors for the disease (e.g. diabetes, obesity, hormone replacement therapy)
- Whether or not you’ve had prior mammograms
- The results of your last breast ultrasound
- Any new or concerning symptoms (e.g. pain, swelling, lumps, etc.)
If a patient chooses to get a mammogram, their physician should also have the option of performing the test using either analog or digital X-rays. In cases where the mammogram will be evaluated by a radiologist, the patient should specify whether or not they want a digital read.
Getting A Mammogram May Not Be The Only Option
If a patient has gone through menopause and is no longer producing significant amounts of breast tissue, they may not need to get a mammogram as often as others. This is because the American Cancer Society recommends that postmenopausal women get a breast ultrasound every three years instead of mammograms. Breast ultrasounds are a type of diagnostic test which uses sound waves to create an image of the breast. They’re less intrusive than mammograms and do not expose the patient to the radiation which comes with repeated X-rays.
The downside to the breast ultrasound is that it is not always available everywhere. In most cases, a radiologist will need to order the test and it won’t be performed by some technician who is just cycling through after taking a standard X-ray. This can mean longer wait times and more opportunity for errors to occur.
What To Look Forward To
There are several things which you can look forward to once you’ve gotten a mammogram. First, you’ll likely feel much better knowing that you have proof of your health in the form of a reliable image. Second, if you have children, you may want to get the test done before they start school to ensure that they don’t hurt themselves playing outside. Finally, many insurance companies offer patient mammogram discounts, so make sure to ask about these when you call to get your appointment.