Mammogram

Author: Courtney Misher, MPH, BS R.T.(T)
Last Reviewed: February 03, 2023

A mammogram is a medical test that is used to look for signs of breast cancer. A machine is used to take an x-ray picture of the breast. More tests may need to be done if anything abnormal is found on your mammogram. An abnormal mammogram does not always mean that it is cancer. Each woman’s breast may look different on a mammogram.

How often should screening mammograms be done?

The American Cancer Society recommends:

  • Women ages 40-44 should have the choice to start annual mammograms if they wish to do so.
  • Women ages 45-54 should get yearly mammograms.
  • Women 55 and older can switch to having mammograms every other year or they can continue yearly mammograms. Screening should continue as long as a woman is in good health and is expected to live 10 years or more.

It is important to talk to your provider about your history and whether you should have additional tests at an earlier age.

How do I prepare for my mammogram?

You should not wear deodorant, perfume, lotion, cream, or any type of powder on the day of your mammogram. They can show up as white spots on an x-ray. If you do, you will be asked to wipe it off before the test. You will need to undress from the waist up and put on a gown.

Try to avoid scheduling your mammogram the week before your period. Your breasts may be tender or swollen during this time, causing discomfort.

How is this test performed?

You will be asked to stand in front of an x-ray machine. Your breast will be placed on a plastic plate. A second plate, sometimes called a paddle, will press down on your breast from above. The pressing down of the top plate can cause pressure and discomfort. While your breast is flattened an x-ray picture will be taken. These steps are repeated to take a side view x-ray of the breast. This process will be done on both breasts.

How do I receive the results of my mammogram?

The radiologist, a doctor who specializes in x-ray imaging, writes a report for your provider who ordered the mammogram. The report provides information about you and the reason for the test. The report will detail both normal and abnormal findings. Your provider will be able to discuss your results with you. If you use a patient portal there, is a chance you will get your results online before your provider calls you. When your provider calls you be sure to ask any questions you have about the report.

Will I need more testing after my mammogram?

There are times when you may be asked to get more testing, this is not uncommon. The thought of needing more tests can cause anxiety and stress. Try not to worry, this does not always mean there is a problem. Sometimes further testing is needed to get a better look at your breast tissue. This is especially true if it is your first mammogram and there are no other mammograms to compare it to or if you haven’t gone through menopause.

In some cases, you may have a false-positive result. This means that your imaging suggests you may have cancer, but after more imaging, it is found that you do not have cancer. There are also times when you can have false-negative results, meaning you do have cancer that was not found on imaging. Because these tests are not always right, it is important to be familiar with your breasts. Notify your care team if you notice any changes in your breasts.

References

ACS Breast Cancer Screening Guidelines. American Cancer Society. (2022, January 14). Retrieved January 31, 2023, from https://www.cancer.org/cancer/breast-cancer/screening-tests-and-early-detection/american-cancer-society-recommendations-for-the-early-detection-of-breast-cancer.html

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022, September 26). What is a mammogram? Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved January 31, 2023, from https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/breast/basic_info/mammograms.htm

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