“I like it on the couch!” or I like it on the kitchen counter!”Have you seen those seemingly suggestive status updates on popular social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook lately? When this year’s campaign on breast cancer awareness was launched, it was met with raised eyebrows among those who were not familiar with the ad. But behind these catchy one liners beginning with, “I like it”, is actually a call for women to get screened. October is actually Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and to raise awareness for this year, women are asked to post messages about where they’d like to put their purses.

Experts have differing views regarding the best time to get screened, but the National Cancer Institute recommends that women above the age of 40 should already have mammograms every year or two. There are other groups that only recommend annual screening once a woman reaches 50 years old, but it is really a case to case basis. The best time to begin screening will actually depend on your health history along with other factors that play a key role in the development of the disease. So the next time you pay your doctor a visit, discuss about the best time to begin screening.

Why is it ordered?

A mammogram is an x-ray test of the breasts primarily used to screen breast problems such as lumps or cysts. It is a good screening and diagnostic tool for breast cancer because it can detect small abnormal tumors before these are even felt by a woman. Groups and other organizations are encouraging women, especially at risk groups to get screened because early detection can help reduce mortality rates among women belonging to the 40-74 year old age group.

What are the risks?

The benefits of the test can outweigh any identified risks.  Since the test exposes women to very low levels of radiation, doctors are able to order the test again after a year or two, depending on the case. It is even estimated that a passenger on an intercontinental flight is exposed to more radiation as compared to getting the test done.

If you have breast implants, inform the technician so that a modified procedure is used. The risk of implant rupture is also very slim, so having breast implants is certainly not an excuse for skipping mammograms. There is also a very small chance of getting false-positive results, of which further testing may be required.

What needs to be done prior to the procedure?

If you already had a mammogram before, bring your results during your examination. You also need to provide your doctor with your health history including details regarding a previous breast biopsy and breast implants. If you are pregnant, or if you suspect that you might be pregnant, inform your doctor because a mammogram is an x-ray test and it is not a routine exam for pregnant women.

Have your mammogram scheduled 1-2 weeks after your period so that it will be more comfortable. During the day of your scheduled exam, do not use perfume, deodorant, creams, or other products on your breasts because the residue from these products can interfere with the x-rays.

What to expect during the test?

Prior to starting the test, you will be asked to remove any clothes and jewelry from the waist up. Depending on the type of x-ray machine used, you will then be asked to stand, sit or even lie down as the radiology technician places one breast between two plastic plates. Mild discomfort is expected at this point because compression of the breast tissue is needed in order to obtain high-quality results. The technician may ask you to lift your arm or to shift positions from time to time depending on the view that is needed.

During the time when the x-ray picture is taken, you will be asked to hold your breath. The process is again repeated for the other breast. Usually, two x-rays are taken for each breast for a complete view of the entire gland. You will then be asked to wait for a few minutes as the technician determines whether good quality images were taken. If not, repeat pictures may be needed.

When getting a mammogram, bear in mind that a few minutes of discomfort is nothing if in return it can give a woman the best chance at survival. Get screened, and encourage your loved ones do the same!