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What to Know About Getting a Mammogram

Article date: September 11, 2013

A mammogram is an important step in taking care of yourself and your breasts. A mammogram is a low-dose x-ray that allows specialists to look for changes in breast tissue that aren’t normal. The American Cancer Society recommends women age 40 and over get a mammogram every year, along with a breast exam by a doctor or nurse. (Most women under 40 do not need a mammogram). And all women, no matter their age, need to let their doctor know about any changes to their breasts.

Whether you’re a mammogram newbie or a veteran, knowing what to expect may help you navigate the process more smoothly.

RESOURCES:

Where to go: Find a center that specializes in mammograms. The US Food and Drug Administration certifies mammogram facilities that meet high professional standards of quality and safety. Ask to see the FDA certificate if one isn’t posted near the receptionist’s desk when you arrive. And when you find a facility you like, stick with it. Having all your mammograms at the same facility will make it easier for doctors to compare images from one year to the next.

When to schedule: It’s best to schedule your mammogram for the week after your menstrual period. Your breasts won’t be tender or swollen, which means less discomfort during the x-ray and a clearer picture.

What (and what not) to wear: Wear a 2-piece outfit because you will need to remove your top and bra. Do not apply deodorant, antiperspirant, powder, lotion, or ointment on or around your chest on the day of your mammogram. These products can appear as white spots on the x-ray.

What to expect: The entire procedure takes about 20 minutes. The breast is compressed for a few seconds while an x-ray picture is taken. The breast is repositioned (and compressed again) to take another view. This is then done on the other breast. Flattening the breast tissue, while uncomfortable for some women, provides a clearer view of the breast and lessens the amount of radiation needed to take an x-ray picture.

Getting the results: You should get your results within 30 days. If you don’t, you should call to ask about them. If doctors find something suspicious, you’ll likely be contacted within a week to take new pictures or get other tests. But that doesn’t mean you have cancer. A suspicious finding may be just dense breast tissue or a cyst. Other times, the image just isn’t clear and needs to be retaken. If this is your first mammogram, your doctor may want to look at an area more closely simply because there is no previous mammogram for comparison.

What you pay: Under the Affordable Care Act, Medicare and almost all private insurance plans now cover annual mammograms, with no co-pay or other out-of-pocket costs. Medicaid also covers mammograms. For uninsured or low-income women, free or low-cost programs are available. Some programs are held during Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October, while others are offered year-round. Call the American Cancer Society at 1-800-227-2345 to find a program near you.

Read the American Cancer Society’s complete recommendations for early detection of breast cancer.

Reviewed by: Members of the ACS Medical Content Staff


ACS News Center stories are provided as a source of cancer-related news and are not intended to be used as press releases. For reprint requests, please contact permissionrequest@cancer.org.

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