What is a mammogram?
A mammogram is an X-ray of the breast. It is the best screening tool used today to find breast cancer early. A mammogram can find cancer at an early stage when it is small and easier to treat. Starting at age 40, all women should get a mammogram every year. If you are under age 40 with either a family history of breast cancer or other concerns about your breasts, talk to your health care provider about when to start getting mammograms or other tests, such as breast MRI, and
how often to have them. It is also important to have a clinical breast exam at least every 3 years starting at age 20 and every year starting at age 40.
If you have a breast problem, a mammogram can also be used to help diagnose it. Mammogram images can be stored on film (standard
mammography) or on a computer (digital mammography). The X-ray uses very little radiation. A radiologist looks at the X-ray for signs of breast cancer or other breast changes. These changes may be small and hard to see, so it is best to have a mammogram every year. That way, your X-rays can be compared from year to year to see if there have been any changes.
Mammograms are very accurate, but they are not perfect. They can find breast cancer before it can be felt. But sometimes they can miss cancer. That is why it is important to also get a clinical breast exam in addition to a mammogram. It is also important to know how your breasts normally look and feel between screenings. If you notice any change, see your health care provider.
1. Choose a certified facility.
Your doctor may refer you to a mammography facility or you may choose one that is convenient for you, such as a mobile mammography van. Wherever you go, be sure to look for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) certificate and accreditation by the American College of Radiology (ACR). These should be displayed. Check the expiration date to assure that the facility is certified.
2. Pick a good time.
A mammogram may be uncomfortable if you have sensitive breasts. If you are still menstruating, plan to have your mammogram the week after your period, when your breasts are less tender. 3. Gather your information. When you make your appointment, you will be
• personal history of breast cancer
• family history of breast cancer
• current breast problems
• past breast surgery
• the date(s) of your past mammogram(s)
• the name and address of your doctor and any facility where you’ve had a mammogram before During your visit, be sure you ask about:
• how and when you will get the results
• when you need to come back
4. Know what to expect.
During a mammogram, your breast is pressed between two plastic plates in at least two views.
These plates flatten the breast tissue so that a good picture is taken. This will not harm your breast. In fact, flattening it reduces the amount of X-rays needed. Although it may be uncomfortable, it should not hurt. Be sure to tell the technologist if the pressure becomes painful.
5. Come prepared.
Wear a shirt that you can take off easily. If you use deodorant, talcum powder or lotion on your breasts or underarms you will be asked to remove it before your mammogram. If you have had a mammogram before at a different facility, obtain and bring your past X-rays with you. If you cannot bring your past X-rays with you, provide the name and address of the facility where X-rays were taken.
6. Get your results.
If you do not have your results within 2 weeks, call your doctor or the mammography facility. Don’t assume your results are normal if you have not gotten them.
7. Talk with your doctor about your results.
If your mammogram shows anything unusual, talk with your doctor about what to do next. Ask if
your mammogram results indicate that you have dense breast tissue. If so, discuss what this means for you and what, if anything, you should do next.