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Mammography Technician


We know that early detection of breast cancer is vital to surviving the disease. By regularly performing self-exams of their own breasts, women (and men) can detect lumps, abnormalities, and pain in their breasts, indicating the possibility of cancer. However, sometimes the lumps, or tumors, are too small to be detected by human hands, and a mammogram is the only way to find the cancer. This is why women are encouraged to have regular mammograms, so they can stop any cancer from developing beyond its initial stage.

Mammography technicians are the people who perform the mammograms. Using low-level radiation, the technicians can take x-rays of women's breasts, in order to locate any tumors that may be forming.

There are two types of mammograms which the technicians perform. Mammography screening is routine. Women who have no signs of cancer come in and have yearly x-rays as part of their general health care. Usually, these mammograms show nothing abnormal in the patients. However, sometimes the technicians are required to perform diagnostic mammograms, when a physician has requested a patient have x-rays taken because a possible problem has been detected.

Working as a mammography technician is not easy. Most women are quite nervous when they arrive for the exam. While the majority of the women are fine, there are the odd few whose x-rays will reveal tumors. While it is the patients' doctors who break the news, the technician still needs to be able to calm anxiety, fears, and ensure that clear, precise images are being taken, so no mistakes are made.
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  Interests and Skills  
Mammography technicians need to be technologically minded, with a calm, sensitive demeanor, a gentle disposition, and a sense of humor. They are organized, efficient, and safety-conscious, with a desire to help people. Mammography technician must work well with others, have good communication skills, and be open to other cultures and belief systems.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Explain the procedure to the patient
  • Answer questions as fully as possible
  • Comfort the patient and provide emotional support
  • Correctly position the patient and the equipment
  • Ensure that the patient, all staff, and visitors are protected from radiation
  • Monitor the patient during procedure
  • Look over resulting images to ensure the breasts have been fully x-rayed
  • Perform any minor repairs to equipment when necessary
  • The typical day for a mammography technician will involve working closely with a number of clients. Some will be coming for regular visits, while others will be returning for diagnoses, and the environment can be a tense. Mammography technicians work indoors, with little opportunity to travel, unless they work with a traveling unit that brings the machines into communities, making access easier for women.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Mammography technicians work in hospitals, mobile mammography units, and health clinics. They work in offices, and in screening rooms. They work with radiation, so must be prepared to take safety precautions. They work regular hours, but may be required to work some evenings or weekends, depending on the clinic's hours. They work in small teams of technicians, assistants, and receptionists.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Mammography technicians can become supervisors, or become college instructors. They can branch into other forms of radiation technology, or can go on to become public health nurses, teaching people about early detection of breast cancer. They can become counselors, or advocates for breast cancer sufferers, and head up fundraising campaigns for research and support groups.

  Educational Paths  
In order to become a mammography technician completion of a two- to three-year college program in radiography is required. They may also be required to join a professional society, depending on where they live.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002, http://www.bls.gov/oes/2002/oes_nat.htm

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