What is Mammography?
Mammography is a type of X-ray of the breasts, in which each breast is imaged separately. How it differs from a normal X-ray is that each breast is compressed between two paddles during image acquisition. Even though this might feel a little uncomfortable, the compression is mostly tolerable and is important for good quality images. Typically, a total of 4 images are taken- 2 for each breast.
Mammography is usually avoided in women below 40 years of age, as the breast tissue is very dense in younger women. Women below 40 years of age are generally advised an ultrasound of the breasts instead.
So, who should get a Mammography?
Women above the age of 40 years who have risk factors such as a family history of breast cancer, a history of ovarian cancer or with known BRCA mutation positivity.
Women above the age of 40 years with a palpable lump in the breast
Women above 40 years with bloody nipple discharge
Men with a lump or swelling behind or around the nipple region (yes, Mammography is not only for women)
What are the types of Mammography?
Screening Mammography – done only as a part of routine health check-up, when there are no symptoms such as a lump or nipple discharge
Diagnostic Mammography – done for characterization of a lump or swelling in the breast
How frequently should women above 40 years undergo screening Mammography?
Once a year.
Is it necessary for all women to undergo Screening Mammography after the age of 45 years?
It is still being debated. Different countries follow their own guidelines. In general, in the end, it is a personal choice and decision.
More importantly, all women must do a Breast self-examination (BSE), i.e. feel for any lumps or asymmetry in both breasts regularly. In case of any palpable lump, pain, or asymmetry, they should immediately consult a physician or breast surgeon and seek attention.
For women with the above mentioned risk factors however, annual screening Mammography is highly recommended after the age of 40 years. For women at low risk who wish to undergo screening, it can be done every 1or 2 years after the age of 40 or 45 years.