Mammography: busting myths, fears

Mammography: busting myths, fears

Breast cancer is one of the major public health concerns that affect women across the world. Its occurrence is increasing globally, demanding an early screening and detection for its effective management and treatment. An increased awareness of breast cancer has led to a lot of conversations around the importance of mammography screening programme that detects breast cancer early in order to increase the chances of successfully treating the disease.

Diagnosis of breast cancer at an early stage can reduce the turmoil that a patient has to experience. Breast cancer does not necessarily present visible symptoms since the cancerous cells are extremely tiny to be recognised. It is only when they start multiplying to form tissues which grow large enough to be felt as a lump that it becomes visible in the later stage.

Mammogram operates by producing images of the breast tissue through radiographic techniques. The images help in identifying abnormalities by showing changes or any kind of lumps present in the breast, including cancer. Mammography is highly beneficial since it is still the only modality that can detect micro calcifications which are the early signs of a breast cancer. It has the capacity to identify issues two years prior to any physical detection by doctors.

Breast cancer awareness has led to a realisation among women about the multiple benefits that mammogram has to offer. While this has resulted in an increase in mammography tests among women, many of them are still reluctant to undergo the screenings due to myths and fear attached with it.

The most common notion is that the radiation emitted from the mammogram might result in breast cancer. The other myths are that mammography tests involve a painful procedure, one does not need to get screened for breast cancer before the age of 40, mammograms are unsafe and ineffective. Apart from myths, many women fight a constant fear of undergoing such a test. They are anxious of being positively diagnosed with breast cancer.

Addressing these myths and fears, medical experts have confirmed that the radiation passed during mammogram is completely safe and the frequency is lesser than a general X–ray, resulting in absolutely no harm to the body. Currently, modern mammography equipment like digital mammogram produce high quality breast images with lower doses of radiation.

The systems are designed with better compression modes making the procedure painless. Nowadays, we can find modifications in usual mammography X-ray images taken on plain films. The X-ray images of the breast are captured on a film-based cassette which is further processed in a processor and finally reviewed on a film.

Digital mammography

Of late, images are being taken on computer screens, which is known as digital mammography. Digital mammography appears to work better for dense breasts with lower doses of radiation than conventional mammography. Also, the x-ray beam here is converted into digital data which can be stored in electronic servers to be used later in a number of ways.

Another highly equipped, digitally-advanced mammography equipment includes the Breast 3D tomosynthesis. This newly emerging method in mammography screening offers high quality images of breast tissue in three dimensions. It is believed to be a quantum leap forward in breast cancer detection.

Considering the rise in need for mammograms, a lot of medical devices manufactures are coming forward with advanced technology. They are also addressing the fear of mammography among women by developing equipment that provides convenient and simple examination of breast cancer.

Digital mammography equipment is now available in Tier II & Tier III cities as well to improve mammography penetration. Even as medical technology firms come up with such developments, mammography also needs to be taken as an essential step among women in their late 30s with family history, and all women in their 40s and above.

Mammography procedures are important to detect cancer at an early stage and prevent the disease way before it turns malignant. The poor level of awareness about mammography among underprivileged women needs immediate intervention.

Clinicians performing breast examinations should take every opportunity to inform women about mammography and its importance and dispel any fears attached to the procedure. Their proactiveness can save many lives through early detection.

(The writer is Manager, Clinical Applications — Breast Imaging, Trivitron Healthcare)

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