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Benefits and Risks Involved in Mammography

Mammography is a specific type of imaging that uses a low-dose x-ray system to examine breasts. A mammography exam, called a mammogram, is used to aid in the early detection and diagnosis of breast diseases in women.
Benefits of Mammography :
– Imaging of the breast improves a physician’s ability to detect small tumors. When cancers are small, the woman has more treatment options and a cure is more likely.
– The use of screening mammography increases the detection of small abnormal tissue growths confined to the milk ducts in the breast, called ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS). These early tumors cannot harm patients if they are removed at this stage and mammography is the only proven method to reliably detect these tumors. It is also useful for detecting all types of breast cancer, including invasive ductal and invasive lobular cancer.
– No radiation remains in a patient’s body after an x-ray examination.
– X-rays usually have no side effects in the diagnostic range.

Risks Involved in Mammography

– There is always a slight chance of cancer from excessive exposure to radiation. However, the benefit of an accurate diagnosis far outweighs the risk.
– The effective radiation dose from a mammogram is about 0.7 mSv, which is about the same as the average person receives from background radiation in three months. Federal mammography guidelines require that each unit be checked by a medical physicist every year to ensure that the unit operates correctly. See the Safety page for more information about radiation dose.
– False Positive Mammograms. Five percent to 15 percent of screening mammograms require more testing such as additional mammograms or ultrasound. Most of these tests turn out to be normal. If there is an abnormal finding, a follow-up or biopsy may have to be performed. Most of the biopsies confirm that no cancer was present. It is estimated that a woman who has yearly mammograms between ages 40 and 49 has about a 30 percent chance of having a false-positive mammogram at some point in that decade and about a 7 percent to 8 percent chance of having a breast biopsy within the 10-year period.
– Women should always inform their physician or x-ray technologist if there is any possibility that they are pregnant. See the Safety page for more information about pregnancy and x-rays.

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