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Mammography-What You Need To Know



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One of the best things you can do for your health, if you're age 40 or over (or younger if your doctor recommends it), is to get a mammogram. But why do some women fail to make that appointment? Some may be reluctant because their insurance doesn't cover routine mammograms. Others have heard the procedure is painful. Some worry about the risk of exposure to radiation. And some simply don't know where to go. Here's the info you need to make it easy to get this simple test that can save your life.


COST:

In 2008, the average cost of a mammogram is $50 to $150, according to the National Cancer Institute, but the procedure can cost up to $300, depending on the mammography center.

Lower-cost options are available. The American Cancer Institute recommends that you discuss the test with your doctor and ask her to arrange one for you. Don't be afraid to tell your doctor if cost is a concern. You also may be able to arrange for a mammogram through a local screening program. Testing is often done through hospitals, health clinics or mobile-van programs. Contact your local chapter of the American Cancer Society to find reduced-cost mammography programs in your area. (Call the national office at 800-ACS-2345 to get the local number).

EARLY DETECTION=LIVES SAVED:

Mammography is currently the best method of detecting breast cancer at its earliest stages, before a tumor can be felt.
Mammography is currently the best method of detecting breast cancer at its earliest stages, before a tumor can be felt. Detecting cancer at this stage means a greater chance of survival. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), one study estimates that for women age 50 and older, physical examination alone has reduced deaths due to breast cancer by 18 percent; but physical examination combined with annual mammography screening reduced breast-cancer mortality by 56 percent.

CHOOSING A FACILITY:

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends asking the following questions before scheduling a mammogram:

Contact your local chapter of the American Cancer Society to find reduced-cost mammography programs in your area.
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Do your X-ray technicians and radiologists have specific training in mammography? Technicians position the patient, operate the X-ray equipment and develop the film. Radiologists are medical doctors who interpret the mammogram results. These professionals must be specially trained to obtain the best possible image with minimal radiation exposure and properly interpret X-rays.

Do you use "dedicated" mammography equipment? Meaning, the equipment is used only for mammography, providing the best mammograms with as little radiation as possible.

How often is your mammography equipment inspected and calibrated. Equipment should be inspected at least annually.

When making an appointment, keep in mind that busy facilities may schedule appointments up to six months in advance.

DISCOMFORT:

Getting a mammogram is quick and simple. The patient usually stands, and the technician positions the breast on a horizontal support tray above the X-ray film. Compression of the breast by a device called a "paddle" is necessary for proper positioning. The paddle is about the size of a sheet of notebook paper.

With some equipment, the technician uses the paddle to manually compress the breast. The paddle stays in position while the technician goes behind an X-ray shield and takes the X-ray. After the exposure, the technician returns to the patient and releases the compression. Newer equipment allows the technician to compress the breast only partially before going behind the machine, where she pushes a button to complete the compression. After the X-ray is taken the compression is automatically released.

During compression, you may feel a bit of discomfort, but there shouldn't be a great deal of pain. While compression doesn't take long, it's very important in getting a high-quality mammogram with the lowest possible radiation.

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