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Frequently Asked Questions: Mammograms

Picture of a woman during a routine mammogram

What are the benefits of screening mammography?

Today's high-quality screening mammography is the most effective tool available to physicians in detecting breast cancer before lumps can be felt or symptoms of cancer appear. Early detection of breast cancer not only helps provide a woman with more options, but also increases the possibility of a favorable prognosis.

Is there a risk of radiation exposure from having regular mammograms?

You may want to ask your physician about the amount of radiation used during the procedure and the risks related to your particular situation. It is a good idea to keep a record of your past history of radiation exposure, such as previous scans and other types of x-rays, so that  you can inform your physician. Risks associated with radiation exposure may be related to the cumulative number of x-ray examinations and/or treatments over a long period of time. Special care is taken to ensure that the lowest possible amount of radiation exposure occurs when you have a mammogram.

What should a woman expect when having a mammogram?

A woman should avoid using deodorant and lotions and wear two-piece clothing on the day of her mammogram. A specially-trained radiological technologist, who will perform the x-ray, will ask the woman to undress and stand next to the x-ray machine. Two flat surfaces, or plates, are lowered and compress each breast for a few seconds. This compression is necessary to produce the best pictures using the lowest amount of radiation possible.

Are mammograms painful?

Some women find the pressure of the plates on their breasts to be uncomfortable or even somewhat painful. Timing your mammogram when your breasts are not tender is important. In premenopausal women, this is usually one week after your menstrual period. If you do experience discomfort or pain, remember that each x-ray takes just a few moments and could save your life.

Who pays for mammography?

Medicare covers mammography screening for women 65 and older every year. Most states now require that health insurance policies offer mammography screening reimbursement. In addition, many mammography facilities also offer special programs and lower fees during National Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October.

For low income women, mammograms are covered through the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program. For more information, contact your state Department of Health.

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