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What is a mammogram?

A mammogram (MAM-oh-gram) is an x-ray picture of the breasts. The dose of radiation from the x-ray is very low and safe. A mammogram can find breast cancer that is too small for you or your doctor to feel.

Mammograms have saved many lives.

What is a screening mammogram?

A screening mammogram is done if you have no symptoms of breast disease. It is the best way to find breast cancer early.

By law, you do not need a prescription or referral if you meet the age guidelines. However, a testing center does not have to accept patients who do not have a prescription or do not have a current primary care physician to receive the report.

The age guidelines for a screening mammogram are:

  • Beginning at age 40: Have a screening mammogram. This will set a “baseline” to compare with for future tests.
  • Starting at age 40: Have a screening mammogram every year.
  • Discuss with your health care provider when to start mammograms if your mother, sister or daughter has been diagnosed with breast cancer.  You may be advised to start having mammograms 10 years earlier than the age that your relative was diagnosed with breast cancer.  Mammograms may start as early as 25 years old.

What is a diagnostic mammogram?

A diagnostic mammogram is for women or men who have signs or symptoms of breast disease. A prescription or referral is needed for a diagnostic mammogram. A diagnostic mammogram is done if you have:

  • Signs or symptoms of breast disease, such as
      • Lumps
      • Pain or tenderness
      • Change in color, surface, size, and/or shape of the breast, nipple, or skin
      • Nipple discharge
  • A personal history of breast , endometrial ( uterus) , or ovarian cancer
  • A personal history of benign breast disease diagnosed by biopsy
  • A previous suspicious breast mass or lump
  • Breasts that are difficult to examine because of size or implants or tissue density /thickness.

Additional tests

After your mammogram, you may be asked to return for more tests. Each woman has unique breast tissue. Sometimes more tests are needed to see if something is abnormal. Some women get more breast x-ray tests that view the breast from different positions. Other women get a breast ultrasound or MRI (magnetic resonance imaging).

Scheduling your mammogram

  • Ask your insurance provider if your mammogram will be paid for. If your insurance does not cover the full cost or if you do not have insurance, you may qualify for a free mammogram. Call the Mammogram Voucher Program toll-free at 1-888-687-0505.
  • If you have Medicare, call your local Medicare carrier or the Medicare hot line at 1-800-638-6833.
  • Call your local UPMC hospital or breast care facility to schedule an appointment.
  • If you have sensitive breasts, schedule the exam at a time of the month when your breasts feel less tender. Avoid the week right before your period. This will help reduce the discomfort. You may take a mild over-the-counter pain reliever about 1 hour before the mammogram.
  • Films and reports from your earlier mammograms are needed for comparison.
    If you are going to the same place where you had your last mammogram, they will have your reports. If not, bring films from your most recent mammogram. Also bring reports from previous mammograms if they were done somewhere else.

The day of your mammogram

  • Bring the following:
      • A prescription if this is a diagnostic mammogram
      • Films, reports, and information about your breast health
      • Your insurance information or mammogram voucher
      • The names, addresses, and phone and fax numbers of your doctors
  • Wear a 2-piece outfit. That way you only have to take off your top.
  • Do not use deodorant, powder, or lotion under your arms or breasts. These materials may interfere with the x-ray.
  • Allow plenty of time for your appointment. Screening mammograms take about 30 to 45 minutes. Diagnostic mammograms take about 11/2 to 2 hours.

During the mammogram

You will be taken to a dressing room or private area. You will be asked to remove your top and cover your upper body with a gown.

When you are in the mammography room, the only other person with you is the mammography technologist.

You will be standing during the test. One at a time, your breasts are placed between 2 plastic plates. The 2 plates are then moved closer together. Your breast will feel pressure when this happens. This may be uncomfortable for a few seconds while your breast is compressed, but it helps to get a good picture. The technologist takes 2 pictures of each breast. More pictures may be taken for a diagnostic mammogram.

When will I get the results of my mammogram?

Your mammogram will be read by a radiologist. A radiologist is a doctor who is trained to read x-rays and identify diseases.

For a screening mammogram: The radiologist does not read your x-ray at the time of your visit. You will get the results within 3-4 working days of the test.

For a diagnostic mammogram: In most cases, you will get your results during your visit. If not, the testing center or your doctor may call you later.

If you do not get the results at the time of your test: Ask the staff at the testing center how and when to get your results. Call the testing center or your doctor if you do not receive the results within the time you were told.

Revised January 2013