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Sunday, December 12, 2010

EastCoastLife Goes For A Mammogram

the 2 plastic plates of a digital Mammography machine

Breast cancer is the most frequent cancer among women in Singapore and it is on the rise. 1 in 17 women develops breast cancer in her lifetime. *gulp*

The risk of developing breast cancer increases with age. Early detection through regular mammograms saves lives. I decided to go for my first mammogram after attending the Chairty Premiere of Love Cuts.

I used to hear quite a lot of negative feedback on mammograms. Several girlfriends and bloggers said "it is painful". "Your breasts will be pulled, tugged and flattened between two metal plates." I was apprehensive but knowing that it is important, I am willing to put up with a little discomfort for that.

Preparing for Mammogram
  • Do not use any body lotion, deodorant, perfume, powder or ointment on your underarms or breasts
  • Wear a comfortable two-piece outfit as you would need to undress from waist up
  • Remove any jewellery from your body
If you are or suspect that you are pregnant, you should inform the radiographer before the mammography.

Some women may experience tender breasts before their period, if you have tender breasts, you may consider to reschedule your mammogram for your own comfort as your breasts would be compressed for a short period during the process.

Mammograms are no fun, but they're not that bad either.

I arrived at the X-ray Centre, 4th level of Health Promotion Board at 3.45pm. After filling up a questionnaire asking for information on my current medical history, the lady radiographer Ms Anizah Lazim explained to me the procedure of the mammography. She warned that I might feel pain. Oh dear, would I scream out loud in pain and embarrass myself. *worries*

Walking into the X-ray Room, I expected to see a monstrous machine. haha.... phew! *relief*

The digital Mammography machine

The Procedure
I was asked to remove my top. A hospital gown was put on. I stood facing the mammogram machine. One breast was exposed and raised to a level position while the height of the cassette holder was adjusted to the same level. My breast was placed mid-film with the nipple in profile and my head turned away from the side being x-rayed. My shoulder was relaxed and pulled slightly backward while my breast was pulled as far forward as possible. The radiographer held my breast in place and slowly lowered the compression with a foot pedal. My breast was compressed between the film holder and a rectangle of plastic (called a paddle) until the skin was taut and the breast tissue firm when touched on the lateral side. The exposure was taken immediately and the compression released. The discomfort lasted less than 15 seconds.

Compression reduces the thickness of the breast, creates a uniform density and separates overlying tissues. This allows for a detailed image with a lower exposure time and decreased radiation dose to the patient. The same view is repeated on the opposite breast.

Next, I was positioned with my side towards the mammography unit. The film holder was tilted parallel to my pectoral muscle. The height of the machine was level with my armpit. My arm was placed at the top of the cassette holder with a corner touching the armpit. My breast was lifted forward and upward and compression was applied until my breast was held firmly in place by the paddle. This procedure was repeated for the other breast.

A total of 4 x-rays, two of each breast, were taken for this screening mammogram.

The radiographer was empathetic to my modesty and anxiety. Throughout the whole procedure, she patiently explained every step. It is reassuring to know that compression is necessary to improve the quality of the image but does not harm the breasts. Such assurance helps to ease my tension.

Pain!? What pain!?
I rated my mammogram pain around a three on a scale of 0 to 10. It's like shoes that fit a little too tight. It's uncomfortable and slightly painful while I was having the mammogram, but the radiographer is trained to make me as comfortable as possible and it ended very quickly. The procedure took only a few minutes. I didn't still feel any discomfort later in the afternoon.... and I was experiencing breast tenderness as it was a week before the start of my period.

My mammography results will be sent to me within 3 weeks from the day of my test.

Mammography is important. Take the necessary step .... make an appointment for one now.

Breast cancer can develop at any time. Screening mammography is the most effective tool in the early detection of breast cancer, as breast cancer usually does not present with any symptoms in the initial stages. Monthly breast self-examinations and yearly mammograms will help in achieving an early diagnosis and therefore a better cure.

The incidence of breast cancer is highest among women in their 50s. It is recommended that women aged 50 and older should go for a screening mammogram once every two years.

A doctor’s referral is not required to make an appointment. Please call the following healthcare providers for an appointment:
  • NHGD: 6275 6443 (6-ASK-NHGD)
  • SingHealth: 6536 6000
  • Radiologic Clinic: 6533 2721

Cost
the usual cost of a screening mammogram is $100. Under the BreastScreen Singapore programme, mammograms are offered to women above 40 years old at subsidised rates of $50 for Singaporeans and $75 for permanent residents (PRs).

    For more information on breast health or BreastScreen Singapore, please call 1800 333 3030.

    **Special thanks to HPB for kindly providing me with the information;  Parkway Health Imaging Services for permission to take photos of its machine.**

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