If you are over the age of 40, have a high risk of breast cancer, or have pain or a lump in your breast, getting a mammogram is often the next step. Here are some of the most frequently asked questions and answers about mammograms.
What is a Mammogram?
A mammogram is an x-ray picture of the breast. Mammograms are used for detecting and helping to diagnose breast cancer. A mammogram is also called a mammography exam. The word mammogram comes from the Latin mamma (breast) and the Greek gramma (that which is written or marked).
What is the Difference Between A Screening & Diagnostic Mammogram?
Screening mammograms are used to check for breast cancer in women who have no signs or symptoms of the disease. Diagnostic mammograms are used to check for breast cancer after a lump or other sign or symptom of the disease has been found.
Should I Get A Mammogram or an Ultrasound?
To screen for breast cancer, get a mammogram. A breast ultrasound, also called a sonogram, is not used for early detection of breast cancer, although they are sometimes used as follow-up tests if mammogram results are unusual. They are sometimes recommended for pregnant women since they do not use radiation.
How is a Mammogram Performed?
Mammograms are quick outpatient appointments that take about 30 minutes. This procedure is done by specially trained technicians who often work exclusively with the mammogram imaging machinery. Depending on the facility you will wear either loose clothing or wear a provided gown. Standing next to the machine, each breast will be placed between plates and compressed for a short period of time. The technician will walk into another room and ask you to hold still and hold your breath while the x-ray images are taken. For an intro on the procedure, check out this fantastic video from Johns Hopkins.
Do Mammograms Hurt?
Most women describe mammograms as uncomfortable but not painful. To reduce discomfort, avoid getting a mammogram at the point in your monthly cycle where your breasts are more tender. The week after your period is the best time. You may want to delay your mammogram if you’re breastfeeding to avoid tenderness. If you have severe pain, notify the technician immediately.
How Often & When Should I Get A Mammogram?
Most mammogram guidelines agree that the average woman should get amammogram every 1-2 years starting between the age of 40 and 50. If you are at higher risk, consider starting earlier and getting a mammogram annually instead of every two years. Check our list of 21 Risk Factors for Breast Cancer if you are unsure of your risk levels. If you have dense breasts, consider doing a combination mammogram-MRI schedule.
What If I Can’t Afford A Mammogram?
Please contact us via our website or by phone. Through our B.E.A.T. program we can help you find free or low-cost mammograms.
Can I Get A Mammogram While Pregnant?
You can, but getting a mammogram while pregnant it is not the most ideal time since the results are harder to read, breasts are tender and constantly changing, and there is a very small dose of radiation used in the procedure.
Can I Get A Mammogram While Breastfeeding?
Yes. It is safe for both you and your baby to get a mammogram while breastfeeding. In fact, since many women skip their mammograms while pregnant, and the breasts undergo so many changes during pregnancy and lactation, it is recommended to get back to regular screenings as soon as possible after giving birth. Just remember to notify your technician that you’re breastfeeding and ask for specific preparation instruction. Many imaging centers recommend expressing as much milk as possible before imaging.
Can Men Get Mammograms?
Yes, men can get mammograms and they are much the same procedure as for women. Male breast cancer is rare but it does happen. Talk to your doctor to see if you are at high risk for male breast cancer.
Can I Get A Mammogram if I Have Breast Implants?
Women with breast implants should still get regular mammograms. Many women worry that a mammogram will rupture their breast implants. Make sure to let your technician know about your implants. There are techniques to move implants away from breast tissue in order to get clearer images, but generally, breast implants do make it more difficult to read mammogram results.
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Are the Radiation Levels in Mammograms Safe?
The radiation levels from screening mammograms are extremely low. Pregnant women can even undergo screening mammograms, though it is not normally recommended. Mammogram radiation does not cause cancer and does not cause cancer to spread.
How Does COVID Affect Breast Cancer Screenings?
Many hospitals and screenings centers are offering mammograms again, with social distancing, COVID testing, face mask, and disinfecting protocols in place. Whether you choose to resume screenings should be based on your COVID risk levels and personal breast cancer risk factors levels, timing of your last mammogram, and the situation in your community. Breast cancer screenings are still incredibly important during the pandemic. The risk of dying from from breast cancer raises significantly if mammograms are skipped.
How Do COVID Vaccines Affect Breast Cancer Screenings?
COVID-19 vaccines often cause swollen lymph nodes in the armpit, which can cause concern for women doing breast self-exams. They can also be mistaken as a symptom of breast cancer on mammograms. To avoid over-treatment and unnecessary biopsies, make sure to notify your doctor and imaging technician of your vaccine. There is no need to worry about swollen lymph nodes unless they persist 6 weeks after the vaccine.
How Does Breast Density Affect Mammograms?
Dense breasts make mammograms harder to read and high density increases your risk of breast cancer. Since 2013, mammogram results from New York state mammography providers are required by state law to inform patients they have dense breasts. If you have dense breasts, you may want to consider, in addition to a mammogram, a ‘fast MRI’ or combination mammogram-MRI screening schedule.