Utah Cancer Control Program A Unified Cancer Prevention Approach

Mammograms

Mammograms are used to find breast cancer early. Many people have questions about mammograms. Click on the links below for the answers to some questions you may have.

What is a mammogram?

A mammogram is a test that looks for changes in the breast that are not normal. The test can find changes that are not noticed by feeling or seeing the breast.

What are the benefits of mammograms?

Today mammograms can detect most cases of breast cancer in women, even if they have no symptoms of cancer. The test can find tumors at very early stages, when they are around the size of a pencil eraser. Most cancer can be treated if caught this early.

How is a mammogram done?

You will stand in front of a special x-ray machine. A trained radiologist will place your breasts, one at a time, between an x-ray plate and plastic plate. These plates will compress the breast and flatten them. There will be pressure on the breasts; you may feel uncomfortable or squeezed. The feeling will only last for a few seconds. Two pictures are taken of each breast—one from the side and one from above. The breast is then released. The test should take 20 minutes from start to finish.

Are mammograms uncomfortable?

You may feel pressure but no significant pain. The pressure will be from the plates compressing the breast. It is important that the breasts are compressed so anything abnormal can be found. Timing your mammogram when your breasts are not tender can help with this.

Does a mammogram take the place of a self breast exam?

No. Combining mammograms with self breast exams is the best way to detect changes early in the breast. One test does not replace the other.

Do I need to get a mammogram if I do self breast exams regularly?

Yes. A mammogram can find lumps in the breast earlier than a breast self exam. For example, the average size of a tumor found by a breast self exam is the size of a quarter. The average size of a tumor found by a mammogram is the size of a dime. This is a big difference in size.

Are there different types of mammograms?

There are two types of mammograms. A screening mammogram and a diagnostic mammogram. Your health care provider will tell you what is best for you.

What is the difference between a screening mammogram and a diagnostic mammogram?

Screening mammograms are done on women who have no symptoms of breast cancer. Two x-rays of each breast are taken. Diagnostic mammograms are used on women who have a lump or other symptom of breast cancer. The test takes longer and more x-rays are taken.

How often should I get a mammogram?

The Utah Department of Health recommends women age 40 and older should undergo routine mammography screening. Talk with your health care provider about what is right for you.

What if there is something wrong with my mammogram?

If the results of your screening mammography show anything unusual, your doctor may suggest additional tests such as a diagnostic mammogram, ultrasound, MRI or a biopsy. An abnormal result does not mean you have breast cancer. There are several things which can cause an abnormal result such as a calcification or a cyst.

  • What are calcifications: Mineral deposits in the breast that are not cancer.
  • What is a cyst: Fluid in the breast that is not cancer.
Is there a risk of radiation exposure from having regular mammograms?

Today mammograms use very small amounts of radiation, about the same as a dental exam. The risk from the harm of radiation exposure during a mammogram is very small and there is no significant risk of radiation damage to breast tissue. Scientists suggest the benefits of getting regular mammograms outweighs the risk.

How much does a mammogram usually cost?

The average cost of a mammogram is $100.00.

Check with your health insurance company to see if they will cover this cost. Many health insurance companies will pay for a mammogram because it is a cancer screening.

Who pays for a mammogram?

Most insurance plans cover the cost of screening mammograms. Medicare covers mammography screening for women 65 and older every year.

Many facilities offer low-cost or financial assistance for those who qualify.

The Utah Department of Health offers free or low-cost mammograms to those who qualify. Call 1-800-717-1811 for details.

What if I have breast implants?

You still need a regular mammogram. Be sure to tell your health care provider if you have breast implants. Your health care provider may recommend a diagnostic mammogram or MRI because implants may hide breast tissue.

If you got your implants after having the entire breast removed because of breast cancer, talk with your health care provider about mammograms.

If I am under 30 and have breast pain, tenderness, or a lump, what type of exam should I get?

If you notice any unusual changes in your breasts, be sure to tell your health care provider. Your health care provider will recommend the best thing for you to do.

I'm a man, should I get a mammogram?

Men do get breast cancer but they do not need regular mammograms. If a lump or symptom of breast cancer is found, talk to your health care provider about what you should do.

Are there any problems with mammograms?

Mammograms are very, very good at finding cancer early when its easier to treat. Mammograms are safe too. As with all tests, sometimes the results aren't clear, but a second mammogram can usually clear up any confusion.