Mammogram

Author: OncoLink Team
Last Reviewed: August 22, 2018

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. It is important to keep in mind that 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 has these recommendations regarding screening using mammograms:

  • 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 doctor 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 because they can show up as while spots on an x-ray. 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 will press down on your breast from above. The pressing down of the top plate can cause pressure and discomfort of your breast. While your breast is flattened an x-ray picture will be taken. Usually 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. If the mammogram image suggests that cancer might be present, more tests will need to be done. If it turns out that there is no cancer, you may have experienced undue anxiety and stress. The additional tests may also have been painful or unpleasant. There can also be false negative results. If the mammogram shows no sign of cancer but cancer is actually present, the diagnosis of the 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. 2017. 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? 2018. Found at: https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/breast/basic_info/mammograms.htm

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