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Are Mammograms Accurate and Reliable?

by NBCAM | July 12, 2003 8:00 PM
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In 1992, the U.S. Congress passed the Mammography Quality Standards Act to ensure that mammography performed at more than 10,000 facilities throughout the country is of high quality and is reliable. To lawfully perform mammography, each facility must prominently display a certificate issued by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This certificate serves as evidence that the facility meets quality standards. You can order the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Qualitys booklet, Things to Know about Quality Mammograms, at no charge, in English or Spanish, by calling (800) 358-9295. Information for healthcare professionals is also available.

What should women expect when they have a mammogram?

A woman who still menstruates should schedule the mammogram for one week after her menstrual period begins, when the breasts will be the least tender. Women are asked to avoid using deodorant and lotions on the day of the mammogram and should wear two-piece clothing to make undressing more convenient. A specially trained radiologic technologist will perform the mammogram. The woman will be asked to undress from the waist up only and stand next to the x-ray machine. Two flat surfaces will compress one breast first, then the other for a few seconds. Compression is necessary to produce the best pictures using the lowest amount of radiation possible.

What barriers keep women from getting mammograms on a routine basis?*

Studies have identified a number of barriers to mammography screening. Some can be overcome with health education; others require programs to make mammography more accessible for women. The top four barriers, in women's words, are:

"I don't need a mammogram because my doctor has never recommended I have one." "I've never thought about it." "I have no breast problems, so mammography isn't necessary." "I don't have enough time."

Other barriers include:

Fear about pain from the procedure. Fear of a diagnosis of breast cancer.Concerns about screening costs. Concerns about the financial burden of diagnostic procedures and treatment, if needed. No recent clinical breast examination or Pap test. No routine source of healthcare. Difficulty taking time off from work to be screened. Living a far distance from the screening site.

* Source: The Manual of Intervention Strategies to Increase Mammography Rates, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention with the Prudential Center for Health Care Research.

Is mammography screening the only way to detect breast cancer?

Mammography screening remains the single most effective method to detect breast cancer early. However, no medical test is always 100 percent accurate, and mammography is no exception. Research is under way to improve the technology to lead to better accuracy.

Reprinted courtesy of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month at www.nbcam.org
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