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

Many insurance companies cover mammograms. If you do not have insurance, some centers in the Oklahoma City metro have reduced-price mammograms. All women age 40 and older with Medicare can get a screening mammogram each year.

Does it hurt?

It depends. For the majority of women, it doesn't hurt. There are some women who have extreme breast sensitivity and find mammograms to be painful. During the mammogram, the compression is snug, but it shouldn't be unbearable.

Technology has evolved during the past 20 years, and mammograms have become easier for patients.

An over-the-counter pain medication taken an hour before the mammogram can help with discomfort.

How long does it take to recover?

You should be able to leave after a mammogram without the need for recovery. You most likely won't have any soreness afterward.

What are the risk factors?

During a mammogram, you will receive a very low dose of radiation from the X-ray. The benefits of mammograms nearly always outweigh the risks of this radiation.

False-negative results are a risk factor to mammograms. They occur when mammograms appear normal even though breast cancer is present. Overall, screening mammograms miss up to 20 percent of breast cancers that are present at the time of screening. The main reason that a woman gets a false-negative result is because of high breast density. This is more common in younger women.

False-positive results are another risk that can cause anxiety and stress. They're also more common in younger women along with women who have had previous breast biopsies, women with a family history of breast cancer and women taking estrogen.

Not all cancers discovered during a mammogram can be cured.

Before getting a mammogram, it's important for women to let their doctor know if they might be pregnant.

Do you need follow-ups?

For most people, there aren't follow-up procedures. Sometimes you might be called back for further testing. This means there's something on your mammogram that looks different from last year, and the radiologist has decided he or she wants to look at that.

They might do some specialized image testing or a breast ultrasound to determine why the breast image looks different. This doesn't automatically mean you have breast cancer.

For example, women in their 40s have a 1 in 69 chance of developing breast cancer. The risk increases as you age. Women in their 60s have a one in 29 chance.

Source: Tracy Cothran, director of patient care, Oklahoma Breast Care Center; The Mayo Clinic; The National Cancer Center at the National Institutes of Health

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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