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Mammography

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Updated: 4/11/2007 5:47 pm
Mammography (mam-MAW-gruh-fee) is a special x-ray procedure used to detect breast cancer. The breast is lifted onto a shelf-like plate, then another plate is lowered to compress the tissue, so it can be photographed clearly. The test takes about 20 minutes, and usually isn't painful, though some women feel slight discomfort due to the pressing of the plates. You can minimize this by scheduling your mammogram when breasts are least tender: a few days after your period ends, up to two weeks before your next period starts. Also, don't put on deodorant, powder or perfume the day of your exam; this could interfere with the results. If any suspicious areas are detected, further tests such as ultrasound or an excisional (ex-SIH-zhun-al) biopsy may be required. In a biopsy, the lump is removed and tested to see whether it's benign or cancerous. A baseline mammogram should begin in your 30's, with regular mammograms starting at age 40, every one to two years. Women over 50 should have the test annually. Mammograms are vital in diagnosing breast cancer, because they can often spot tumors that are too small to be felt. To ensure accurate results, look for a certified testing facility. Newer machines use digital technology, which may produce a more accurate picture. Ask a health care provider for more details.
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