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October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month; Learn What to Expect When Getting a Mammogram

PHILADELPHIA (October 5, 2000) -- For women who are facing their first mammogram, knowing what to expect can make the process easier. For some women, not knowing what is involved in getting a mammogram can deter them from taking this life-saving step. This October, Breast Cancer Awareness month, make a commitment to get your first mammogram or encourage someone you love to have this important test. You could help save a life.

"It is important for all women, age 40 and older, to get a yearly mammogram," explains Marcia Boraas, M.D., a surgical oncologist at Fox Chase Cancer Center. "It is best to speak with your physician about your breast cancer risk and then decide the right time to begin getting mammograms and how often you should get them. Women with an increased risk for breast cancer due to family history or other factors may need to begin getting mammograms before age 40."

One of the biggest factors, which keep women from getting mammograms, is the apprehension they have about the procedure.

"It is normal for a woman to be concerned about the test, but that test could be the one which saves her life," says Dr. Boraas. "People who do not understand the test tend to feel anxious about it because of what they hear; however, there is no reason to worry."

Modern mammography equipment is used specifically and exclusively for breast X-rays. Strict guidelines, put forth by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA), are in place to ensure that the equipment is safe and uses the lowest level of radiation possible. The level of radiation in up-to-date mammograms does not significantly increase a woman's risk for breast cancer.

A technologist, usually a woman for comfort level, will be with the woman during her exam. When going in for her appointment, the woman will be asked to undress above the waist. She will be provided with a wrap to wear for the procedure.

Women can expect the average mammogram to last about 20 minutes. During the procedure, the breast is compressed to spread the breast and flatten the tissue. Although this may cause slight discomfort for women, the compression only lasts for a few seconds of the whole test.

"To lessen any pain associated with a mammogram, it is better for a woman not to have the test done just before or during her menstrual period," says Dr. Boraas. "If a woman does experience pain, she should let her technologist know so they can fix the problem."

After the X-ray is complete, a radiologist will read, or interpret, the film and look to see if there are any abnormalities within the breast tissue. If the radiologist finds an irregularity, a biopsy (the removal of a small amount of tissue) may be performed to tell if the mass is indicative of cancer.

"There is also the possibility that the woman may need another mammogram," says Dr. Boraas. "Women do not necessarily have to be alarmed if they are asked to get another test done; this will clear up any questions or concerns the radiologist may have had."

The woman will receive results from her mammogram within 30 days. If there is a problem with the results, she will be contacted within five working days.

Another thing women should know before getting a mammogram is the cost of the test may be either completely or largely covered by their health plan.

For more information about scheduling a mammogram, or if you have any questions about the test, call the Mammography department at Fox Chase Cancer Center at (215) 728-2646.

For a list of FDA-certified mammography facilities in your geographic area, contact the National Cancer Institute's Cancer Information Service (CIS) at 1-800-4-CANCER. The CIS can also help women without health insurance find facilities that provide low-cost mammograms.

Fox Chase Cancer Center, one of the nation's first comprehensive cancer centers designated by the National Cancer Institute in 1974, conducts basic and clinical research; programs of prevention, detection and treatment of cancer; and community outreach. For more information about Fox Chase activities, visit the Center's web site at

Fox Chase Cancer Center, part of the Temple University Health System, is one of the leading cancer research and treatment centers in the United States. Founded in 1904 in Philadelphia as one of the nation’s first cancer hospitals, Fox Chase was also among the first institutions to be designated a National Cancer Institute Comprehensive Cancer Center in 1974. Fox Chase researchers have won the highest awards in their fields, including two Nobel Prizes. Fox Chase physicians are also routinely recognized in national rankings, and the Center’s nursing program has received the Magnet recognition for excellence four consecutive times. Today, Fox Chase conducts a broad array of nationally competitive basic, translational, and clinical research, with special programs in cancer prevention, detection, survivorship, and community outreach.  For more information, call 1-888-FOX CHASE or (1-888-369-2427).

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