Mammography is a special x-ray examination method which serves to discover various changes in breasts, which can potentially be a growing tumor. It is an examination with a great importance in fighting breast cancer. Breast cancer, or breast carcinoma, is a very common disease, which is why its important to discover it in its early stages, so that a successful treatment can happen. A screening program is used for this reason. It involves a preventive examinations in women with no symptoms in order to discover the disease as soon as possible. An early discovery of this cancerous disease significantly improves the changes of a full recovery.
Breast cancer is the most common malignant breast disease in women. Breast cancer denotes various forms of malignant tumors developing from cells of the mammary glands. There are usually no symptoms present in the early stages. A larger tumor can be felt as a painless lump and later on, swollen lymph nodes in the armpits can also be felt. The carcinoma can also manifest by changes in breast shape, surface changes of the nipple, dimpling, pain, stiffness or reddening of the breast. The occurrence of breast cancer grows markedly after the 40th year of age. Aside from age, other risk factors are occurrence of breat cancer in family, obesity, beginning of menopause after 55, first pregnancy after 35, other malignant diseases or unhealthy lifestyle. Factors protecting against breast cancer are pregnancy before the 20th year of age, physical activity, vitamin A, beta-carotene, breastfeeding and omega 3 fatty acids. The treatment of breast carcinoma depends on its size and clinical stage. Surgery is employed, together with irradiation, chemotherapy, hormonal therapy and immunotherapy. To improve the chances of full recovery, it is important to discover the cancer as soon as possible, which is the purpose of mammography.
Mammography is performed in specialized workplaces, known as mammo centers. It is necessary to fill out a form regarding anamnesis, underwent breast surgery, current difficulties etc. before the examination. This form is the same in all centers. The purpose of this form is to find out if there are any cancerous diseases present in the family and based on that, to place the patient in a higher-risk group, which needs to be monitored more often and more carefully than how its prescribed by the screening protocol. Mammography is done by a machine called a mammograph. This is a type of an x-ray device, which employs very small doses of x-ray radiation. These can discover even slight changes in the breast. The woman disrobes from the waist up before the exam. After that the breast tissue is pressed down by the device and each breast is examined. The pressing down is necessary to make a proper, easy to evaluate picture. The examination lasts for about 5 minutes and is not painful in any way, all that can be felt is a slight pressure, which might be uncomfortable to some women. The x-rays are examined and evaluated by a doctor after the exam. Mammography can discover even very small cancer nodes, which cannot be felt during an auto-examination or even a manual examination performed by a doctor. The mammograph's x-rays are better at displaying a breast with a higher ratio of fat tissue, which is common in older women. Younger women, with a higher ratio of ligaments and gland benefit more from an ultrasound examination.
Mammography screening is intended for women aged 45-69 years, which tend to have a higher risk of breast cancer. It should be done once every 2 years. With women with high risk factors and in women with breast cancer occurrence in family the examination can be performed earlier. Mammography is also performed if an unknown shape is found in the breast during a manual exam. This allows to find the exact size and position of the lump and helps to judge the node's malignity to a certain extent. Mammography is not only an examination method to discover changes in the breast tissue, it is also used in minor breast surgeries. This mainly includes the taking of a tissue sample using mammograph guidance. This is important to judge the character of the found shape before the surgery itself, radiotherapy or chemotherapy. Nodes with size under 10mm are also removed with mammograph guidance.
Goals of mammography
The goal of preventive mammography is an expedient discovery of breast cancer and decreasing the mortality of this common disease. It is also important not to forget a breast auto examination and regular gynecological checkups, where the manual examination is performed by a doctor. If any suspicious lump is discovered in the breast, you should seek out your doctor as soon as possible.