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Finding Breast Changes

There are three ways to find breast changes:

* Breast Self-exam

* Mammogram - an x-ray of your breasts

* Clinical breast exams -- a breast exam done by your health care provider or gynecologist.

As you probably know most women find their own breast lumps, so we can not stress the importance of monthly breast self-exam.

Mammograms are used for both screening and diagnosis.

A screening mammogram is used to find breast changes in women who have no signs of breast cancer. Most women get two x-rays of each breast.

If your recent screening mammogram revealed a breast change since your last one, or if you or your health care provider noticed a change, he or she will probably recommend a diagnostic mammogram. More x-rays are taken during a diagnostic mammogram than a screening mammogram to get clearer, more detailed pictures of the breast. It is also used to rule out other breast problems.

Take your original mammogram and copy of the medical report with you if you change doctors or centers or need a second opinion.

A digital mammogram is another way to take a picture of your breasts. The procedure for having a digital mammogram is the same as a screening mammogram, except that it records the x-ray images in computer code instead of on x-ray film.

It is important to see your doctor and get a mammogram every 1 to 2 years after age 40 to find breast changes.

Mammograms and Breast Implants
When you go for your mammogram, tell staff if you have a breast implant. A technologist who is trained in x-raying patients with implants will do your mammogram. Breast implants can hide some breast tissue and make it harder to read your mammograms.

If you got implants for cosmetic reasons:

    * You still need to get screening mammograms, with extra pictures to help get an accurate reading.

If you got an implant after having a mastectomy for breast cancer:

    * You should continue to get mammograms of your other breast. Ask your doctor if you still need mammograms of the breast with the implant.

Getting Your Mammogram Results
Ask your doctor when you will get your results. You should get a written report of your mammogram results within 30 days of getting the x-ray. This is the law. Be sure the mammogram facility has your current address.

If your results were normal, it means the radiologist did not find anything that needs follow-up.

If your results were abnormal, it means the radiologist found:

    * A change from a past mammogram
    * A change that needs more follow-up

What a Mammogram Can Show
The radiologist will look at your x-rays for breast changes that do not look normal. The doctor will look for differences between your breasts. He or she will compare your past mammograms with your most recent one to check for changes. The doctor will also look for lumps and calcifications.

Lumps (or "mass")
The size, shape, and edges of a lump sometimes can give doctors more information about whether or not it is cancer. On a mammogram, a growth that is benign often looks smooth and round with a clear, defined edge. On the other hand, breast cancer often has a jagged outline and an irregular shape.

Are Mammogram Results Always Correct?
No. Although they are not perfect, mammograms are the best method to find breast changes. If your mammogram shows a breast change, sometimes other tests are needed to better understand it. Even if the doctor sees something on the mammogram, it does not mean it is cancer.

Changes That Need More Follow-Up
Sometimes your health care provider or doctor needs more information about a change on your mammogram. Your doctor may do follow-up tests such as an ultrasound or more mammograms. The only way to find out if an abnormal result is cancer is to do a biopsy. It is important to know that most abnormal findings are not cancer.

What is MRI of the Breast?
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a noninvasive medical test that helps physicians diagnose and treat medical conditions.

MR imaging uses a powerful magnetic field, radio frequency pulses and a computer to produce detailed pictures of organs, soft tissues, bone and virtually all other internal body structures. The images can then be examined on a computer monitor, printed or copied to CD. MRI does not use ionizing radiation (x-rays).

MRI of the breast offers valuable information about many breast conditions that cannot be obtained by mammography or ultrasound.

Remember to ask lots of questions, stay informed, and always get a second opinion. For more about "Breasts", go there...

Some Breast Cancer Web Resources:

Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation

The Breast Cancer Research Foundation

American Cancer Society - Breast Cancer Awareness

Breast Cancer

To "About Breasts"

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