A mammogram is an x-ray image of a breast produced by mammography. There are two types of mammograms:
- A screening mammogram. This is for women who have no problems with their breasts, and consists of two x-ray views of each breast.
- A diagnostic mammogram. This is for evaluation of new abnormalities or for patients with a past abnormality requiring a follow-up. In this case multiple x-rays are taken, from different angles of certain areas of the breast(s).
Where are they offered?
Mammograms are offered in a variety of locations, such as hospitals, outpatient clinics, physician's offices and mobile breast exam centers, just to name a few.
For citizens in the US: It is important to be sure that the facility you are using for your mammogram is certified by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). These places must meet high standards for their x-ray machines and staff. Check out the FDA's website for a list of certified locations.
When should you get a breast exam?
It is important that doctors find breast cancer early, it is therefore recommended that:
- Women from the age of 20 should have a mammogram every three years.
- Women older than 40 should have mammograms every 1 to 2 years.
What is often recommended by physicians is that you perform a self breast exam at least once a month. For more information about this click here. This self breast exam (SBE), in combination with the regular mammogram is the best way of finding cancer at an early enough stage. You should keep in mind that mammograms can often show a breast lump before it can be felt, meaning that a self-breast exam is not a substitute for a mammogram.
If an abnormal area shows up on your mammogram, you may need to have more x-rays, the diagnostic mammograms. You may also need a biopsy. A biopsy is the only way to tell for sure if cancer is present.
Mammograms are the best tool doctors have to find breast cancer early. However, mammograms are not perfect:
- A mammogram may miss some cancers. (The result is called a "false negative.")
- A mammogram may show things that turn out not to be cancer. (The result is called a "false positive.")
- Some fast-growing tumors may grow large or spread to other parts of the body before a mammogram detects them.
Mammograms (as well as dental x-rays, and other routine x-rays) use very small doses of radiation. The chance that the radiation doing any harm is very slight, but repeated x-rays could cause problems. The benefits nearly always outweigh the risk. You should talk with your health care provider about the need for each x-ray. You should also ask for shields to protect parts of your body that are not in the picture.