Frequently Asked Questions: Mammograms

Technician helping woman during mammogram

What are the benefits of screening mammography? 

Today's high-quality screening mammogram is the most effective tool available to detect breast cancer before lumps can be felt or symptoms appear. Early detection of breast cancer not only helps provide a woman with more choices. It also increases her chances of having the best possible outcome.

What's the difference between a screening mammogram and a diagnostic mammogram?

A screening mammogram is an X-ray of the breast used to detect breast changes in women who have no symptoms, no abnormalities for follow-up, or have 3 years of stable mammograms since their breast cancer diagnosis.

Diagnostic mammograms are for women who need their mammograms reviewed immediately at the time of their appointment due to active problems or being followed for a finding on a previous imaging appointment. Your primary care provider and your radiologist will carefully determine which appointment is best suited for your current needs.

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

You may want to ask your healthcare provider about the amount of radiation used during the procedure and the risks related to your particular situation. Special care is taken to make sure that the lowest possible amount of radiation is used when you have a mammogram.

What should a woman expect when having a mammogram?

A woman should not use deodorant, powder, or lotions and should wear 2-piece clothing on the day of her mammogram. A specially trained radiology technologist will perform the X-ray. The radiology technologist will ask the woman to undress, put on a gown, and stand next to the X-ray machine. Two flat surfaces, or plates, are slowly squeezed together and compress each breast for a few seconds. This compression may be somewhat painful. But it 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 painful. Timing your mammogram when your breasts are not tender is important. In premenopausal women, this is usually 1 week after your menstrual period. If you do experience discomfort or pain, ask the technologist to reposition you to try to make it as painless as possible. Remember that each X-ray takes just a few moments and could save your life.

Who pays for mammography?

The Affordable Care Act dictates that mammograms for breast cancer screening be given without a co-pay or deductible beginning with plan years starting after August 1, 2012. However, health plans that were in place before the Act was passed (called grandfathered plans) do not have to cooperate. Those plans are covered by various state and federal laws. Medicare covers annual mammography screenings for women ages 40 and older. Most states now require that health insurance policies offer mammography screening reimbursement. 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.

Mammography & Screening Guidelines | FAQ with Dr. Lisa Mullen

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