1. What is a mammogram?
A mammogram is an x-ray picture of the breast.
Mammograms can be used to check for breast cancer in women who have no signs or symptoms of the disease. This type of mammogram is called a screening mammogram. Screening mammograms usually involve two x-ray pictures, or images, of each breast. The x-ray images make it possible to detect tumors that cannot be felt. Screening mammograms can also find microcalcifications (tiny deposits of calcium) that sometimes indicate the presence of breast cancer.
Mammograms can also be used to check for breast cancer after a lump or other sign or symptom of the disease has been found. This type of mammogram is called a diagnostic mammogram. A diagnostic mammogram can also be used to evaluate changes found during a screening mammogram or to view breast tissue when it is difficult to obtain a screening mammogram because of special circumstances, such as the presence of breast implants
2. What types of mammograms are there?
Digital Mammography – Most mammograms are done digitally. This enables the images to be stored easily so that they are available for comparison. Radiologists can also enhance or magnify a digital image to better determine if there are signs of cancer.
3-D Mammography – This type of digital mammogram uses both x-ray technology and computer software to reconstruct images of the breast. This test is typically done at the same time as the two dimensional mammogram. This procedure has been found to increase the detection of cancers while greatly decreasing the chance for follow-up exams.
Ultrasound – Ultrasound uses sound waves to look inside the breast . It is sometimes used to evaluate a potential issue found during a mammogram or physical exam.
MRI – Magnetic resonance imaging uses radio waves and a powerful magnet to create detailed pictures. MRIs are very sensitive and can potentially find cancer at an earlier stage. However they are also known to raise a high number of false alarms so they are typically only used for high-risk patients.
3. How much does a mammogram cost?
For most women with private insurance, the cost of screening mammograms is covered without co-payments or deductibles, but women should contact their mammography facility or health insurance company for confirmation of the cost and coverage.
4. What are the risks of a mammogram?
Because x-ray procedures use radiation, there is some small risk of radiation side effects to the body. The amount of radiation that is administered in mammography is exceptionally low and is approved by national and international regulatory agencies as well as the National Department of Health and Human Services. However, patients who are pregnant or may be pregnant are advised to notify their requesting practitioner and radiology staff, because radiation can pose a risk to the developing fetus.
5. How often should I get a mammogram?
The United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends the following:
Women ages 50 to 74 years should get a mammogram every 2 years.
Women younger than age 50 should talk to a doctor about when to start and how often to have a mammogram. A mammogram may be required more/less frequently depending on factors such as genetics, previous incidence, age, and other health issues.
6. When should I start getting a mammogram?
The age in which you begin getting mammograms may be different for each person. As stated, there are many factors which may increase or decrease your chances of developing cancer. Some women begin regular screening as early as 35 and some as late as 55. However most doctors do suggest regular screening by age 50.
7. Does a mammogram hurt?
For many, the mammogram is equivalent to having your breasts squished in a vice clamp. Ouch! While it does sound painful, for most it is not unbearable. An experienced radiologist can reduce the amount of discomfort you may feel and they are more likely to be accurate thereby reducing the instance for a follow-up mammogram. So look for a center that specializes in mammography. Also remember to time your appointment appropriately. Breasts will be most tender in the last week of your cycle so try to schedule your appointment around your menstrual cycle whenever possible.
8. How should I prepare for my appointment?
- If you have breast implants, be sure to tell your mammography facility that you have them when you make your appointment.
- Wear a shirt with shorts, pants, or a skirt. This way, you can undress from the waist up and leave your shorts, pants, or skirt on when you get your mammogram.
- Don’t wear any deodorant, perfume, lotion, or powder under your arms or on your breasts on the day of your mammogram appointment. These things can make shadows show up on your mammogram.
- If you have had mammograms at another facility, have those images sent to the new facility so that they can be compared to the new images.
9. How quickly will I receive my results?
The report of the mammogram generally takes a few days to reach the referring doctor by mail. However, when there is a suspicious area on the mammogram, this information is usually relayed directly to the referring doctor by phone so that further evaluation of this area can be completed quickly. A patient should call the doctor if she has not received the results of a mammogram in a reasonable period of time. The patient should not just assume the mammogram was normal.
When it comes down to it, regular mammograms are only one small part of an effective cancer prevention strategy. Stress reduction, exercise, and nutrition can also play a large role in your breast health, and overall physical and mental health as well. The lifestyle that you maintain is as important as just about anything else in helping to prevent your risk of cancer.
*Disclaimer – The material in this post is to be used for informational purposes only and does NOT replace the advice of your physician. If you have concerns regarding your own breast health, please consult a specialist.