Mammograms and Other Breast Imaging Tests

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How is mammography regulated?

In the United States, mammography is highly regulated. Although the overall quality of mammography has improved since its introduction in the late 1960s, studies done in the mid-1980s showed that quality varied greatly from place to place.

To help educate those working with mammograms, improve quality, and lower the dose of radiation, the American Cancer Society asked the American College of Radiology (ACR) to establish standards and criteria that would help women and doctors find those facilities that provided high-quality screening services. In 1986, the ACR started the first national Mammography Accreditation Program (MAP). This voluntary program raised standards nationwide and led to better mammogram services at those sites that took part in the program.

In 1992, Congress passed the Mammography Quality Standards Act (MQSA) to ensure that radiology facilities offering mammography would be required to meet minimum quality standards. Today, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) certifies every facility offering mammography (except those of the Department of Veterans Affairs). In order to be certified, the equipment, personnel, and practice of the facility must be reviewed by an FDA-approved accreditation body, have an on-site inspection, and meet the following criteria:

  • Each mammography unit has to be accredited.
  • Certain staff members must meet strict standards including:
  • - Radiologists (the doctors who interpret or read the mammograms)

    - Radiologic technologists (those who actually position women for the mammogram and take the pictures)

    - Medical physicists (professionals who specialize in medical equipment and image production)

  • Typical x-rays are reviewed for quality and information on radiation dose, which is required to be very low.

If the facility meets all of the required standards, the FDA gives its certification. These standards are outlined in the MQSA, which has been in effect since 1994. It is unlawful to do mammograms in the United States without an FDA certificate.

The FDA has a list of all of its certified mammography facilities by state and zip code. You can find those near you by visiting the FDA’s website: www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/cdrh/cfdocs/cfMQSA/mqsa.cfm.

Reporting results

A full report of the results of your mammogram will be sent to your doctor.

The Mammography Quality Standards Act (MQSA) also requires mammography clinics notify women in writing about the results of their mammograms. Clinics must mail women an easy-to-understand summary of their mammogram results within 30 days—or “as quickly as possible” if the results suggest cancer is present. This means you could learn about the results before you doctor calls to tell you. If you want the full written mammography report in addition to the summary, you’ll need to ask for it.


Last Medical Review: 12/08/2014
Last Revised: 12/08/2014