Mammogram Fact Sheet

Mammograms are an important part of the breast cancer detection process. Ideally if performed regularly based on a woman’s age and risk factors then any changes or spots can be detected and the proper treatments action can be taken before the situation worsens. It is important for women to be aware of their risk factors and to receive mammograms on a regular basis.

What Is a Mammogram?

Essentially, a mammogram is an x-ray exam that utilizes low doses of radiation to identify any changes within the breast tissue. A radiologist will examine the results that are recorded onto a computer or x-ray film. Many times, a woman will go into the exam without any noticeable symptoms, but x-rays can reveal what is not visible to the naked eye.

How Are the X-Rays Done?

The mammogram is performed by an expert known as a radiologic technician. In total, the procedure should only takes about 20 minutes to complete. One after the other, your breasts will be placed between the plastic plate and the x-ray plate. The plates will flatten your breasts out in order to obtain the clearest picture possible. It may feel like a great amount of pressure and discomfort but it only lasts for a few seconds.

How Often Should You Receive a Mammogram?

It is recommended that women between the ages of 50 to 74 should receive a mammogram once every two years. However, you may need to go in more frequently if you have a family history of breast cancer. Women under the age of 50 should have a discussion with their doctors to see how often they should get the exam. Your overall health and risk factors will need to be taken into consideration to determine how regularly you need x-rays.

What Do Mammograms Show?

Ultimately, mammograms are used to determine if there are any changes with the tissue in the breasts. Occasionally, lumps are detected, and they can either be benign or a sign of cancer. The way doctors are able to tell is if the lump is smooth, then it is likely benign. Signs of cancer generally have a jagged outline and will be more uneven in shape. Something else that these tests can find is the presence of calcification. This occurs when calcium deposits lump together in the breast. Calcifications are not necessarily a sign of cancer, but doctors will typically recommend additional tests in order to be sure.

What Should You Do Before Going in for a Mammogram?

Your doctor will tell you of how to prepare for your specific exam, but in general, you should avoid wearing any perfume or deodorant on the day of your x-ray. This is due to the fact that these substances have the potential to create shadows on the mammogram. Anyone with breast implants should inform their doctor prior to the x-ray. Additionally, if you are getting a mammogram at a new facility, you should have any x-ray films taken at a different facility sent over.

Mammograms are just one component of a comprehensive cancer screening, and there are likely other steps you should take to monitor your health and detect any cancer early. It is important to note that mammograms do not actually prevent cancer, they merely detect it, ideally as early on as possible.