A mammogram, which is also called “digital mammography,” is a screening test that uses low-dose X-ray technology to take pictures of the inside of your breasts. The purpose of this screening test is to look for any signs of breast cancer or other changes in the breasts that may require further investigation or treatment.
During a mammogram, each of your breasts is placed between two plates that compress the tissue to take a clear image. Each breast and the imaging plates are moved around to obtain different pictures from different angles. You need to stand still during the test. The radiologist reviews the images captured and tells you whether any abnormalities are present.
During the exam, you may feel slightly uncomfortable as your breast tissue is compressed, but the test is short, and most women report no significant pain.
DEXA is a screening test that measures your bone density using two X-ray beams with different energy levels. The purpose of this screening is to look for signs of osteoporosis. Your doctor may also order regular DEXA scans if you’ve already been diagnosed with osteoporosis. In this case, the purpose of the repeated scans is to monitor your condition.
Most women over the age of 45 should have an annual mammogram to look for signs of breast cancer, although those 55 and older may switch to every two years. Women between the ages of 40 and 45 should also consider getting scanned. If you have significant risk factors, such as a family history of breast cancer, or if you have other symptoms of breast cancer, you may need a mammogram before the age of 40.
Doctors usually recommend DEXA scans for women over the age of 65. If you have certain risk factors that make osteoporosis more likely, you may need to begin DEXA scans at an earlier age.
Both mammograms and DEXA scans expose you to a small amount of radiation, which may slightly increase your risk of developing cancer at some time during your life. However, most doctors agree that the benefits of these scans outweigh the risks for the majority of patients.
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