Mammogram – what is it and who should have it done?


What is a mammogram?

A mammogram is a low-dose X-ray that examines breast tissue.

When is it used?

A mammogram helps detect breast cancer at an early stage. Mammograms can detect some types of cancer before you or your healthcare provider can feel a lump. They detect most cancerous growths in the breasts.Mammograms are also used to check lumps you or your healthcare provider have found in a physical exam. They can help determine which lumps are cancerous and which are benign. They can also check for any additional lumps that cannot be felt yet. All suspicious lumps should also be biopsied or removed, even when the lump appears noncancerous (benign) on a mammogram.Mammograms can also show a more exact location of a growth before you have surgery or a biopsy to remove it.

How do I prepare for a mammogram?

Be sure your underarms and chest are clean. Don’t put any deodorants, powders, lotions, or perfumes on your underarms or chest on the day your mammogram is to be done. These products can make it difficult to interpret the test results correctly.

What happens during the procedure?

A mammogram is done in your healthcare provider’s office, an X-ray clinic, or a mobile van with a mammography machine inside. You will be asked to take off your shirt, bra, and jewelry. It takes just a few minutes for the technologist to take X-rays of each breast. The machine has a platform for your breast. The technologist will place your breast on the platform and put a plate on the breast to press it gently. This may be uncomfortable for a few seconds, but it allows the X-ray to show more of the tissue deep within your breast. Two or three different views of each breast will be taken to check the whole breast. Each X-ray position requires just a few seconds.

What happens after the procedure?

The X-rays will be read by a radiologist and the results reported to your healthcare provider. You will also get a letter from the radiologist.

What are the benefits of this procedure?

Mammograms help your healthcare provider diagnose breast problems. Most commonly, they help find breast cancer at an early stage. The smaller and the more localized a cancer is at the time of diagnosis and treatment, the greater the chance of a cure. The mammogram allows the detection of some types of breast cancer 1 to 2 years before you or your healthcare provider would be able to feel it. There is a better chance of curing the cancer if it is found at an early stage.

What are the risks or concerns associated with this procedure?

  • Many women are called back for repeat mammograms or for needle biopsies to see if they have breast cancer and then find out they don’t have cancer. This is expensive and causes a lot of anxiety as women wait for results. And needle biopsies can be painful, even though local anesthesia is used to numb the area.
  • Mammograms often find small growths that are not cancerous. However, once detected, they must be biopsied to make sure that they are not cancer.
  • Mammograms also sometimes find very small cancers that are harmless. These cancers are groups of abnormal cells that will never cause any symptoms or problems. They may stop growing, shrink, or even go away on their own. But because it’s not possible to know whether this cancer is going to be fast-growing and very malignant or a harmless cancer that will go away on its own, these cancers end up being treated.
  • Mammograms expose women to very low levels of radiation, but the more mammograms a woman has, the greater her lifetime exposure to chest radiation.
  • Mammograms do not detect all breast cancers. About 1 out of every 4 or 5 breast cancers are missed by a mammogram and found only when they are felt with the fingers. If you feel a lump in your breast, report it right away to your provider even if you have had a recent mammogram that did not find any cancer.

Discuss any concerns you have with your healthcare provider.

How often should I have a mammogram?

Breast cancer screening guidelines released by the US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) in 2009 recommend a mammogram every 2 years for women 50 to 74 years old. This recommendation is for women of average risk. Not every medical organization agrees with this recommendation and it is being reviewed. The American Cancer Society recommends that women with an average risk should start getting a mammogram at age 40 and then have one every year.Depending on your personal and family history your provider may recommend a different screening schedule. Some women with a high risk of breast cancer may need to start screening earlier than age 40 and may need to be screened more often. If you have a risk for breast cancer that is much higher than average and you are 25 years old or older, ask your healthcare provider when you should start having mammograms and how often you should have them. If you have a very high risk, you may want to see a breast specialist.If you have any questions about when you should start having mammograms and how often to have them, ask your healthcare provider.

When should I call my healthcare provider?

  • Call your provider right away for an appointment if you find any change in your breasts when you do a self-exam, especially if you find a lump.
  • Call your provider during office hours if you have questions about the procedure or its result.

@ Published by RelayHealth.
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.