Mammogram

A mammogram is an x-ray picture of the breast. It can be used to check for breast cancer in women who have no signs or symptoms of the disease. It can also be used if you have a lump or other sign of breast cancer.

Screening mammography is the type of mammogram that checks you when you have no symptoms. It can help reduce the number of deaths from breast cancer among women ages 40 to 70. But it can also have drawbacks. Mammograms can sometimes find something that looks abnormal but isn't cancer. This leads to further testing and can cause you anxiety. Sometimes mammograms can miss cancer when it is there. It also exposes you to radiation. You should talk to your doctor about the benefits and drawbacks of mammograms. Together, you can decide when to start and how often to have a mammogram.

Mammograms are also recommended for younger women who have symptoms of breast cancer or who have a high risk of the disease.

When you have a mammogram, you stand in front of an x-ray machine. The person who takes the x-rays places your breast between two plastic plates. The plates press your breast and make it flat. This may be uncomfortable, but it helps get a clear picture. You should get a written report of your mammogram results within 30 days.


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  • Women with an average risk of breast cancer. Many women begin mammograms at age 40 and have them every one to two years. ...
  • Women with a high risk of breast cancer. Women with a high risk of breast cancer may benefit by beginning screening mammograms before age 40.
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Screening mammography can distort estimated effects in breast cancer risk models due to associations with other risk factors. Mammography information was available in the Nurses’ Health Study from 1988, and 1,815 incident breast cancers were accrued through 2000 among 55,625 women with risk factor data. Logistic models were fit for screening mammography, and inverse probability weighting was used to adjust parameters in an established breast cancer risk model. Approximately 80% of women in each 2-year follow-up period had screening mammograms, which were positively associated with history of benign breast disease, family history of breast cancer, hormone therapy, alcohol use, physical activity, multivitamins, and calcium supplements, and negatively associated with postmenopause, current smoking, and body mass index. Markers of medical attention, including hypertension, high cholesterol, and osteoarthritis, were positively associated, while cardiovascular disease was negative. Inverse probability weighting led to small changes in effects of benign breast disease, family history, and hormone therapy. An apparent reduced risk associated with current smoking in unadjusted models was eliminated after weighting. Thus, several risk factors for breast cancer and cancer diagnosis are associated with mammographic screening. Adjustment for screening had some impact on breast cancer prediction in this cohort, especially for hormone therapy and smoking.


  • There is always a slight chance of cancer from excessive exposure to radiation. However, the benefit of an accurate diagnosis far outweighs the risk.
  • The effective radiation dose for this procedure varies. See the Safety page for more information about radiation dose.
  • False Positive Mammograms. Five percent to 15 percent of screening mammograms require more testing such as additional mammograms or ultrasound. Most of these tests turn out to be normal. If there is an abnormal finding, a follow-up or biopsy may have to be performed. Most of the biopsies confirm that no cancer was present. It is estimated that a woman who has yearly mammograms between ages 40 and 49 has about a 30 percent chance of having a false-positive mammogram at some point in that decade and about a 7 percent to 8 percent chance of having a breast biopsy within the 10-year period.
  • Women should always inform their physician or x-ray technologist if there is any possibility that they are pregnant. See the Safety page for more information about pregnancy and x-rays.


While screening mammograms are routinely administered to detect breast cancer in women who have no apparent symptoms, diagnostic mammograms are used aftersuspicious results on a screening mammogram or after some signs of breast cancer alert the physician to check the tissue. Such signs may include: A lump. Breast pain

During mammography, a specially qualified radiologic technologist will position your breast in the mammography unit. Your breast will be placed on a special platform and compressed with a clear plastic paddle. The technologist will gradually compress your breast.

Breast compression is necessary in order to:

  • Even out the breast thickness so that all of the tissue can be visualized.
  • Spread out the tissue so that small abnormalities are less likely to be hidden by overlying breast tissue.
  • Allow the use of a lower x-ray dose since a thinner amount of breast tissue is being imaged.
  • Hold the breast still in order to minimize blurring of the image caused by motion.
  • Reduce x-ray scatter to increase sharpness of picture.

You will be asked to change positions between images. The routine views are a top-to-bottom view and an angled side view. The process will be repeated for the other breast. Compression is still necessary for tomosynthesis imaging in order to minimize motion, which degrades the images. During screening breast tomosynthesis, two-dimensional images are also obtained or created from the synthesized 3-D images.

You must hold very still and may be asked to keep from breathing for a few seconds while the x-ray picture is taken to reduce the possibility of a blurred image. The technologist will walk behind a wall or into the next room to activate the x-ray machine.

When the examination is complete, you may be asked to wait until the radiologist determines that all the necessary images have been obtained.

The examination process should take about 30 minutes.


Mammography is a specific type of imaging that uses a low-dose x-ray system to examine breasts. A mammography exam, called a mammogram, is used to aid in the early detection and diagnosis of breast diseases in women. ... The best time for a mammogram is one week following your period.

The USPSTF recommends that women who are 50 to 74 years old and are at average risk for breast cancer get a mammogram every two years. ... Women should weigh the benefits and risks of screening tests when deciding whether to begin getting mammograms at age 40.

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