What Is a Mammogram?
Mammography is a specialty radiographic procedure where a digital X-ray machine produces images from at least 2 angles of breast tissue specifically. Mammograms are done as part of routine periodic wellness checks to establish a baseline for future reference so any changes in the breast appearance can be discerned. Mammograms can visualize lumps even too small to feel during a physical exam.
What Can I Expect During My Mammogram?
You will be positioned in front of an X-ray machine and your breast will be compressed between two breast supports gently flattening the breast. This compression is necessary to minimize the radiation dose and to get the clearest diagnostic images. You may feel some minimal discomfort, but this is only for a few moments while the images are acquired. The technologist will monitor your discomfort level and adjust for you if necessary. You may experience some temporary changes in skin color and/or mild aching due to the compression after the exam. Generally, you can resume regular normal activities right away after the exam.
Some mammograms are 2D and some are 3D. A routine screening 2D exam will be approximately 10-20 minutes in duration while a 3D exam may take a bit longer to perform as many more angles and images are needed to produce the 3D effect. The images in a diagnostic-type mammogram will be immediately reviewed, and if need be, a breast ultrasound may need to be added and performed for a more accurate diagnosis.
How often and When Should I Have a Mammogram?
Your risk of breast cancer goes up as you age. But experts disagree about when you should have your first mammogram.
The American Cancer Society recommends that women ages 40 to 44 should have a choice to start yearly screening mammograms. Women 45 to 54 should have a mammogram each year, and those 55 years and over should get mammograms every 1 to 2 years. But the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends screening every 2 years from ages 50 through 74 and says the decision to start yearly screening mammograms before age 50 should be an individual one. Talk with your doctor about when you should start getting them.
If your clinician tells you you’re at high risk for breast cancer, or if you have close family members who got the disease at an early age, you might want to consider getting screened earlier.
Most experts recommend that you continue to have these screenings as long as you are in good health and are expected to live at least another 10 years.