What is a mammogram?

Dr. Jeanne Morrison, PhD
Family Practitioner

Mammograms are used for both screening and diagnosis. A screening mammogram is used to find breast changes in women who have no signs of breast cancer. Most women get two x-rays of each breast.

If your screening mammogram shows a breast change since your last one, or if you or your health care provider notices a change, you may need to have a diagnostic mammogram. That means more x-rays are taken to get clearer, more detailed pictures of the breast.

A digital mammogram is another way to take a picture of your breasts. The procedure for having a digital mammogram is the same as for a screening mammogram, except that it records the x-ray images in computer code instead of on x-ray film.

If you are a woman over age 50, you should have a yearly mammogram (breast x-ray) to screen for breast cancer. The American Cancer Society advises women to consider getting annual mammograms at age 40, and get annual mammograms between ages 45 and 54. Women 55 and older may switch to getting the test every other year, or may continue to go every year. Mammograms can find cancer years before you would be able to feel a lump—and the earlier you can detect breast cancer, the better your chance for a cure.

This answer is based on source information from the National Cancer Institute.

A mammogram is an x-ray picture of the inside of the breast. It can be done as a routine screening test or to help pinpoint the cause of breast cancer symptoms (nipple discharge, lump, skin changes).

Mammography is currently the best screening tool we have for breast cancer. A mammogram can find cancer at a very early stage—long before a lump would be felt during an exam by you or your doctor. When cancer is found very early, the chance for a cure is much better.

There are no known significant risks from mammograms when guidelines are followed. The dose of radiation is low, and the test will not damage breast tissue.

Dr. Stuart A. Linder, MD
Plastic Surgeon

A mammogram or mammography or is an X-ray exam of the breast. This exam is extremely important for detecting and evaluating the breast for any type of abnormalities. Doctors recommend mammograms both for screening purposes, when patients have no symptoms or complaints, and diagnostic purposes, when patients do have symptoms or complaints. These symptoms can include a lump, discharge from the nipple, or increased pain localized along the breast.

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A mammogram is a specific type of x-ray imaging that uses low-dose radiation to examine the breasts in order to identify breast cancer or abnormalities in individuals with or without symptoms. It plays an important role in the early detection of breast cancer because it can show changes in the breast up to two years before you or your doctor can feel them. After the initial screening mammogram, there are additional types of mammograms that a radiologist can use for more detailed views, including digital mammography.

Stacy Contreras
Body Imaging Specialist

A mammogram is an x-ray of the breast used to look for signs of breast cancer. Stacy Contreras, director at Good Samaritan Hospital’s Breast Care Center, discusses how mammograms are part of an annual exam, but may also be performed if you find a lump in your breast.

Dr. Janine L. Carson, MD
Diagnostic Radiologist

A mammogram is an important screening to detect breast cancer. When it comes to mammograms, every woman has a different experience. In this video, Dr. Jan Carlson describes the test and discusses the steps that can minimize discomfort.

A mammogram is a low-dose X-ray used to routinely evaluate a woman's breast health. It helps doctors see whether there are any abnormalities or changes in the breast tissue that may need to be further explored. It is a screening tool, and it is also a diagnostic tool for investigating lumps or changes.

Most women who have had a mammogram will tell you that breast compression is uncomfortable but not painful. It is a good idea, however, to schedule your mammogram when your breasts are least tender—typically two or three days following the end of your menstrual cycle. You may also want to consider taking a pain reliever to reduce the discomfort.

Generally, two pictures of each breast are taken. The actual time needed to take each picture is about five seconds. The entire procedure only takes about 20 minutes.

We have never come across a woman who told us that a mammogram felt good. Many women refer to the X-ray machine as a "breast sandwich" machine: one breast at a time is placed between two plates, and then the breast is flattened in order for the technician to get a picture of the entire breast. The procedure can be uncomfortable, even painful, particularly for women with small or especially sensitive breasts. You shouldn't have any lasting pain or marks.

Mammograms are used to screen for breast cancer. In general, mammograms are safe. The major concern associated with mammograms would be that of exposure to radiation. There has been no evidence to show that there is any increased risk from radiation in women who undergo routine mammograms after the age of 40. There is, however, a population of women who are at an increased risk of breast cancer due to genetic mutations, BRCA1 + BRCA2. These women are also at an increased risk of radiation-induced breast cancer. In this specific population it is important to discuss the risks vs the benefits of mammography to detect early onset breast cancer. In this scenario the use of mammography should be patient-specific and centered upon the patient's ultimate goals and wishes in regard to her breast health.

A mammogram is a specialized x-ray of your breasts from various angles. Although it doesn't usually hurt, a mammogram can be uncomfortable or embarrassing. A healthcare professional moves and flattens your breasts (breast compression) on the x-ray machine so it is in the best position for taking x-ray images. The entire procedure typically takes less than 15 minutes.

The value of mammography is that it can identify potentially cancerous breast abnormalities at an early stage before they can be felt. While mammograms can detect a breast lump up to two years before it can be felt during a physical examination, they can miss up to 20 percent of breast cancers.

The American Cancer Society recommends an annual mammogram for all women 45 and older. The ACS has updated its guidelines to say that women ages 40 to 44 have the choice to start annual breast cancer screening with mammograms if they wish to do so. The risks of screening as well as the potential benefits should be weighed. At age 55 and older, women can also switch to getting mammograms every 2 years.

A mammogram is an x-ray image of the breast. Mammography is the procedure used to generate a mammogram. The equipment used to obtain a mammogram, however, is very different from that used to perform an x-ray of your chest or bones. The breast is composed of tissues that are similar to each other in density. Changes or abnormalities in your breast tissue are often very subtle. Therefore, the mammogram machines, film, and developing process are specially designed to take pictures of these subtle differences.

During mammography, the breast is flattened or compressed between the film and a plastic plate. Some women do experience discomfort during the procedure, while most report no discomfort. Keep in mind that your breast is actually compressed for less than 30 seconds in most instances. Compression will not harm your breast in any way and is extremely important in obtaining a clear image.

If you have particularly sensitive breasts, it may be best to schedule your mammogram at a time of month when your breasts are least tender. Your menstrual cycle and/or estrogen therapy may affect the sensitivity of your breasts.

Fear about radiation from mammograms is common among women. While it is true that all x-rays carry a dose of radiation, keep in mind that improvements in technology over the past 20 years have decreased that dose substantially. In fact, today's mammograms deliver very little radiation.

Studies have indicated that the carcinogenic, or cancer-causing, potential of radiation decreases as women age. After the age of 40, there is little evidence of increased risk of developing breast cancer due to exposure to low levels of radiation. The average mammography study (two images per breast) performed on modern, properly-maintained equipment results in a dose of less than 0.3 rad.

Statistically speaking, this dose suggests a risk of one death due to breast cancer per million women screened. The natural incidence of breast cancer is 1,000 cases per million women at age 50 (about 1 in 10); 1 in 1,000 women will die of breast cancer. These statistics show that the chance of a mammogram saving your life (by detecting breast cancer) is much greater than the chance of it harming you.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.