Mammogram

Author: OncoLink Team
Last Reviewed:

What is a mammogram?

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. 

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 have 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 a mammogram?

You should not wear deodorant, perfume, 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. 

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 clear 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 you receive the results of your mammogram?

The radiologist writes a report for the provider who ordered the mammogram. The report provides information about the patient 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.

At times, you can have a false-positive result. This means that the mammogram image suggests that cancer might be present. More tests are done, and it turns out that there is no cancer. This can cause you to have anxiety, worry, and stress. The additional tests may also have been painful or unpleasant. There can also be false-negative results. This means the mammogram shows no sign of cancer but cancer is actually present. In that case, the diagnosis of cancer may be delayed. This may result in the need for more aggressive treatment later. Because of this, it is important to be familiar with your own breasts and to notify your care team of any changes you notice. 

References

American Cancer Society. Recommendations for Early Detection of Breast Cancer. 2020. Found at: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. What is a mammogram? 2020. Found at: https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/breast/basic_info/mammograms.htm

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