What Is a Mammogram?

A mammogram is a low-dose x-ray of your breasts and is the most common imaging test to screen for breast cancer.

Mammograms can find cancer or other disorders early, before a lump can be felt or other early signs of breast cancer are present; therefore, allowing a diagnosis in the earliest stages of disease. Early detection results in better outcomes. In fact, based on recent data, average survival rates at five years for women diagnosed with breast cancer are 91% for localized disease and 85% for regional disease.

A mammogram detects tumors and calcium deposits in the breast. Most calcium deposits are not cancer, but a cluster of very tiny specks of calcium (microcalcifications) can be one of the early signs of breast cancer.

Health experts have different advice for when to get mammograms.

  • The American Cancer Society (ACS) recommends yearly screening for all women ages 45 to 54.
    • Women ages 40 to 44 have the option of a mammogram if they have high risk factors.
    • The ACS also suggests women ages 55 and older could change to screening mammograms every two years if they have a health history that supports such a decision.
  • The U.S. Preventative Services Task Force recommends screening every two years for women ages 50 to 74.

Although a mammogram is the best way to find breast cancer early, it may not always detect cancer. In some cases, it may find an abnormality that turns out not to be cancer—what is known as a false positive. Some people worry about radiation exposure, but levels are about the same as those you would be exposed to during a flight from New York to California. Women should talk with their doctor about their risk factors before deciding when to start and how often to get a mammogram.

Mammogram Tips

  • Try to have your mammogram done by the same health group every year. Radiologists will be able to use past mammograms as a frame of reference.
  • If you are visiting a facility for the first time, arrange for previous mammograms to be forwarded to the new group, or bring copies of past mammograms.
  • Do not wear deodorant to your mammogram. Bring deodorant to your appointment to put on after. Often, facilities have deodorant available if you forget to bring it.
  • Mammograms are fast, and many women report just a few seconds of discomfort. If you are uncomfortable during the procedure, remember it takes less than a minute to take the x-ray.
  • Try to schedule mammograms around the periods of your menstrual cycle when you experience breast tenderness.

If your mammogram shows anything abnormal, you may be recalled for a diagnostic mammogram. This procedure is very similar to a screening mammogram. The main difference is that the radiologist will focus specifically on the locations of abnormalities and may use different mammogram equipment than a screening.

Would you like to schedule a mammogram? Find a breast center location near you.

To contact one of New Jersey’s best breast cancer specialists call
844-CANCERNJ or 844-226-2376.

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