What is mammography?
A mammogram is a low-dose x-ray that examines breast tissue.
When is it used?
Mammography is useful for detecting breast cancer at an early stage. A mammogram can detect some types of cancer before you or your doctor can feel a lump.
Mammograms are also used to check lumps that have been found in a physical or self-exam. They can help determine which lumps are cancerous and which are benign.
How do I prepare for mammography?
Be sure your underarms and chest are clean. Don't put any deodorants, powders, 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 a doctor's office or x-ray clinic. You will be asked to take off your shirt and bra. The technician will use a large machine to take x-rays of each breast. The mammogram appointment takes only a few minutes and is normally not painful. However, you will feel some pressure when your breasts are pressed between two plates for the x-rays, and your breasts may ache for a short time afterward. Each x-ray position requires just a few seconds.
What happens after the procedure?
Ask your doctor how you will be notified of the results and when you should have another mammogram. Comparing a series of mammograms done at different times (for example, every other year) at the same office or clinic helps detect early cancer.
The American Cancer Society recommends that if you are 35 to 39 years old, you should schedule a baseline mammogram. Beginning at age 40, you should have a mammogram every 2 years. If you are 50 or over, you should have a mammogram every year. If you have an increased risk of breast cancer, earlier and more frequent screening is recommended.
Your doctor should give you a breast exam once a year. In addition, you should do breast self-exams every month, even if you have yearly exams and mammograms.
What are the benefits of this procedure?
Mammography helps the doctor diagnose various disorders of the breast. Most commonly, it helps find breast cancer at an early stage. One out of every eight women in the U.S. will develop breast cancer in her lifetime. The smaller and the more localized the cancer at the time of diagnosis and treatment, the greater the likelihood of a cure. The mammogram allows the detection of some types of breast cancer 1 to 2 years before a doctor or patient could feel it on exam. There is a better chance of curing the cancer if it is found at an early stage.
What are the risks associated with this procedure?
There are no known significant risks from having mammograms according to the recommended screening schedule. Discuss any concerns you have with your doctor.