Tests: Mammogram

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The Abramson Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania
Last Modified: January 22, 2002

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About Mammography

Rena Rowan Breast CenterThis "Helpful Facts" sheet is designed to give you basic information on mammography. More detailed information can be provided by your doctor or nurse. If you have other questions or would like additional information please talk to your doctor or nurse.

What is a mammogram?
A mammogram is a safe, low-dose X-ray procedure that produces pictures of the inside of the breasts. Mammography can detect some suspicious breast changes that are too small or too deep to be felt on breast examination.

How effective is a mammogram in diagnosing breast cancer?
Mammography is considered the best method available today to detect breast cancer in its earliest, most curable stage. Early detection is the best weapon since breast cancer is most treatable when discovered early.

Is there a risk in having a mammogram?
A mammogram uses low-dose X-rays, so there should not be a risk from radiation exposure.

What happens during the mammogram?
During the mammogram, each breast is placed between two hard surfaces that are attached to an X-ray machine. The breasts are pressed firmly while the X-rays are being taken. This compression is necessary to view all of the breast tissue. Typically, two or three pictures are taken of each breast.

Will the mammogram hurt?
Although you may find the pressure on your breast to be somewhat uncomfortable, it takes only a few seconds for each picture. If you are feeling anxious or experience discomfort, talk to the technologist. She will make you as comfortable as possible and can answer any questions you may have.

How long does the procedure take?
The entire mammography procedure takes about 15 minutes.

Why do I need to wait after the procedure?
The technologist will immediately process your mammogram films. If the films are fuzzy or less readable than needed, it may be necessary to repeat some views.

Why is it helpful to bring older mammograms that were done elsewhere?
The breast radiologist can compare the old pictures with the new ones to determine if there are any significant changes in your breast tissue.

Who reads mammograms at Penn?
At Penn, we have a team of full-time, dedicated breast radiologists who will review your mammograms.

When do I learn my results?
A report of your mammogram results will be sent to your referring physician shortly after your visit. In some cases, the radiologist may discuss the results with you at the time of your study. However, for routine screening studies, the radiologist will not discuss the results but you will receive a letter in the mail telling you the results of the mammogram. In addition, your doctor will share the results and discuss with you the breast radiologist's recommendations.

How often should I have mammograms?
If you're a woman 40 years of age or older, you should get a mammogram every year. Whatever your age, if you have questions about getting a mammogram, talk to you doctor because he or she knows your medical history best.

If you have other questions about breast ultrasound or would like additional information please ask your doctor or nurse.


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