According to the American Medical Association (AMA) all women over the age of 40 should begin receiving regular annual breast cancer screenings, or mammograms. In my experience, the ultrasound mammogram is the much less painful and, quite frankly, a lot less embarrassing and humiliating method of screening for women when compared to the traditional x-ray machine method. If you have never had an x-ray mammogram of your breast, let me tell you, it is not very fun. You are escorted into a room and asked to “place your breast” on a cold, flat metal podium. Then, a technician comes over, man-handles your breast to the location and position she needs for it to be in, which is usually in some horribly uncomfortable position for you, then tells you not to move! If for some reason you move slightly, you have to start over! Once it is in position, she then places the “top” portion of the machine on your breast and begins squeezing your breast in order to capture the x-ray image. Imagine two book ends on either side of your breast being squeezed together! That is what a traditional x-ray mammogram feels like.
However, ultrasound mammograms (also known as sonograms), use sound waves to capture the images in real time. They produce a much more detailed image than the traditional torture x-ray film method and, because ultrasound imaging is captured in real time, if the technician sees something she thinks looks suspicious, she can manipulate the view while performing the mammogram, thus not requiring you, the patient, to return for a second or even third visit.
Aside from the fact ultrasound mammograms do not torture the patient, another advantage to ultrasound mammograms versus x-ray mammograms is the fact that the ultrasound method does not introduce ionizing radiation exposure to the patient like the traditional x-ray method does. As a matter of fact, for this reason the United States Food and Drug Administration actually recommend that healthcare providers consider ultrasound mammograms as a preferred method of breast cancer screening over the x-ray method.
If you are currently scheduled for your first ultrasound mammogram, try not to be too nervous. Most facilities know that you are going to be a little nervous and are prepared to make the ordeal as relaxing as possible. You are typically provided a hospital gown and placed in a private room to change. Once the technician comes into the room, it is almost exactly like an ultrasound received when you are pregnant, only this time they are looking at your breasts. Oh, and consequently, you will not receive a still picture to take home! If your breasts are dense, it may take a little longer and the technician may want to have the doctor come in to view the images with you. Otherwise, it is extremely painless and a whole lot less humiliating than the traditional breast x-rays. If your health insurance lets you choose which method you would prefer, I would definitely choose to have the ultrasound mammogram.