What's It Like ...? To get a mammogram

Research shows that screening mammography can help reduce the number of deaths from breast cancer among women ages 40 to 74, especially for those older than 50.
by Jaclyn Cosgrove Published: May 6, 2012

Why get a mammogram?

A mammogram is an X-ray picture of the breast. For women, it's used as a screening tool to find if a woman has breast cancer. The goal is to find the cancer early.

Research shows that screening mammography can help reduce the number of deaths from breast cancer among women ages 40 to 74, especially for those older than 50.

Breast cancer forms in the breast tissues, usually in the ducts, or tubes that carry milk to the nipple and lobules, which are glands that make milk.

Doctors also use mammography for men suspected of having breast cancer.

There is some debate about what age and how often women should get mammograms. The American Cancer Society recommends every woman 40 and older have an annual mammogram.

The federal government's National Cancer Institute recommends that women in their 40s and older should have mammograms every one or two years.

Both groups recommend that women who are younger than 40 and have risk factors for breast cancer should ask their health care provider whether to have mammograms and how often to have them.

For example, if your mother was diagnosed with breast cancer at 42, your doctor might suggest you start getting mammograms at 32. It's always best to talk with your health care provider about what's best for you.

Women in their 20s and older can start giving themselves breast self exams to check for lumps or any changes in the breast. If you find any changes in your breasts during a self exam, it's important to talk with your health professional. It's also important not to panic. Most often, symptoms like a change in the size or shape of the breast or a nipple turned inward into the breast don't mean breast cancer. However, it's important to consult your health provider if you do experience changes so that he or she can diagnose and treat them.

What happens when you get a mammogram?

A mammogram generally takes about 10 minutes to 15 minutes. You disrobe from the waist up and put a cloth gown on. During the procedure, your breasts, one at a time, are compressed between two firm surfaces for a short period of time. This allows a radiographer to take X-ray images of both of your breasts. After medical staff determines the images taken are good quality, they will send them to a radiologist who will interpret them.

The radiologist will compare them to years past and look for changes.

You can ask the facility how long it will take to get your results back. It shouldn't take longer than 30 days.

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by Jaclyn Cosgrove
Medical and Health Reporter
Jaclyn Cosgrove writes about health, public policy and medicine in Oklahoma, among other topics. She is an Oklahoma State University graduate. Jaclyn grew up in the southeast region of the state and enjoys writing about rural Oklahoma. She is...
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