FAQ About Mammogram

June 15, 2019 – 7 min read

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image of a woman looking at images of a breast ultrasound on computer screens in front of her

Mammogram has become a routine part of women’s preventative health practice. Perhaps you’ve heard about a mammogram or your women’s health provider has recommended you get one. If you’ve got questions about mammogram, you’ve come to the right place. In today’s post, our medical imaging team will answer frequently asked questions about mammograms.

At Touchstone Imaging, we take women’s imaging services seriously and pride ourselves on offering the cutting-edge technology and experienced radiology staff that can perform all of the diagnostic imaging you need. If you need a mammogram, find a Touchstone Imaging center near you and schedule your diagnostic mammogram today.

What is a mammogram?

A mammogram is a diagnostic imaging tool that uses low-energy x-ray in a special machine to look at breast tissue for signs of abnormalities.

Why did my doctor order a mammogram?

Your doctor may have ordered a mammogram for a variety of reasons. A screening mammogram is recommended for any woman over the age of 40 or younger in those who are at high risk or have a family history of breast cancer. Additionally, if you have any concerns or unusual symptoms, including a breast lump, pain, or nipple discharge, a screening mammogram may be ordered to rule out breast cancer. A diagnostic mammogram may be ordered if a screening mammogram was abnormal or inconclusive, or if you have a history of breast cancer. If you have had no previous symptoms, speak with your doctor about their recommendations or rationale for the mammogram they have ordered.

Does a mammogram hurt?

A mammogram should not hurt. Some women, especially those with sensitive breasts or nipples, may experience some minor discomfort when the breast tissue is pressed between the two plates. However, this discomfort should only last a few seconds and should be relieved as soon as the plates are no longer flattening the breast tissue.

I’ve heard conflicting evidence, do women really need mammograms?

A mammogram is a non-invasive diagnostic test that has been used for nearly 40 years. Some people debate whether or not a mammogram is necessary based on risk factors and weighing the risk versus benefits of radiation exposure. However, as we published in a prior post, the low-dose x-ray that is used in a mammogram is minimal. Others question whether or not mammograms are completely necessary based on the number of biopsies that are performed that return as benign (not harmful). However, mammograms are the only screening tool that has been proven to reduce breast cancer deaths. Since the 1990s when mammograms became standardized, the death rate has declined by 30%, and as we discussed in a previous post, the number of cases of detected breast cancer each year has doubled in the last decade, whereas the number of deaths has declined.

Consistent recommendations and advice span across the most relevant agencies and associations regarding mammogram. Current guidelines from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the American Cancer Society (ACS), the American Medical Association (AMA), and the American College of Radiology (ACR) recommend screening mammography every year for women, beginning at age 40.

Do I need a doctor’s order?

No! If you would like to have a screening mammogram done, you can make an appointment at any Touchstone Imaging location, or for a screening mammogram, we take walk-ins. However, because we are a medical imaging center and not a treatment facility, you do have to have a provider that we can send the results to — primary care, gynecologist, or family doctor are all fine.

How young should I start getting a mammogram?

According to the American Cancer Society, women should start considering annual mammograms beginning at 40 years old. If, however, you have a family history, including a parent or grandparent who has had breast cancer, it is recommended to get screenings beginning at the age they were diagnosed, or sooner for high-risk women.

How often should I get a mammogram?

For women aged 40 to 44, it is recommended to begin annual screening and strongly encouraged that women aged 45 to 54 make mammograms part of their annual routine. Women aged 55 and older can switch to a mammogram every other year unless they are high risk or have had a history of breast cancer.

I have breast implants, can I still get a mammogram?

Yes, mammograms are still recommended for women with breast implants. Although, you should let your technologist know that you have implants, what kind, and whether they are above or below the muscle. Because the mammogram may not fully penetrate the silicone or saline, additional images may be taken to ensure a complete picture is captured of the breast tissue. For women who have contractures (scar tissue), the mammogram may be uncomfortable, but the mammogram should not affect the implants.

Is there an alternative to a mammogram?

Yes. Women’s imaging services are not a one-size-fits-all medical practice. For women who cannot have a mammogram or mammogram results have come back inconclusive, other options include 3D mammogram, breast ultrasound, or breast MRI. In the event that there is abnormal results on one diagnostic imaging test, your provider may order another kind. Additionally, if you have a condition or have a previous history of mastectomy, a traditional mammogram may not be the best option. Discuss the options and risks versus benefits of each modality with your medical provider and radiology technologist.

Can I have a female technologist perform the mammogram?

Absolutely. At Touchstone Imaging, we staff women who are mammography-certified for this very reason. While all of our well-trained and high-skilled radiology technologists can perform a mammogram, all of our locations have women staff to keep our patients undergoing women’s imaging services comfortable.

Can I get a mammogram while pregnant or breastfeeding?

Hormone changes during pregnancy can elevate your risk of breast cancer and exacerbate or encourage the growth of pre-existing breast cancer during pregnancy. Because of hormonal changes and milk production, detecting breast lumps may be more difficult. However, gestational breast cancer or pregnancy-associated breast cancer can develop quickly. If you discover a suspicious lump during your pregnancy, a mammogram is warranted.

Because a mammogram uses a low-radiation x-ray, routine or screening mammograms may be postponed if there are no signs or symptoms that would warrant it. However, if there are indications that you may have breast cancer, a mammogram should be performed right away. Because the radiation dose is so small and concentrated solely on the breast tissue, there is little to no risk to the baby. Because gestational breast cancer can be so aggressive, it is highly recommended that you do not wait until after delivery. However, if you or your medical provider are uncomfortable with a mammogram during your pregnancy, you can have an alternate procedure such as a breast ultrasound or breast MRI.

If you are breastfeeding, it may be difficult to get a clear image due to the full milk ducts. If you are scheduling a routine screening mammogram, it may be postponed until about three months after you are done breastfeeding. However, if you are experiencing any symptoms or lumps while breastfeeding, it is not recommended that you wait. The mammogram will not affect your milk or milk supply in any way and you can immediately breastfeed once the mammogram is complete. We will ask that you breastfeed prior to the mammogram to empty the ducts as much as possible.

I’m a man, can I get a mammogram?

Yes! Because breast cancer can occur in men too, if you have any signs or symptoms that could indicate breast cancer, you may be referred for a mammogram. In fact, mammograms tend to be more accurate in men because the breast tissue is less dense. However, because a mammogram depends on pressing the breast tissue between two plates to flatten it, men who do not have enough breast tissue for this may be referred for alternative diagnostic imaging methods including breast ultrasound.

For more information about breast cancer and mammogram recommendations, visit these online resources:

Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation 

American Cancer Society

American College of Radiation

Regardless of what kind of mammogram you need — screening, diagnostic, ultrasound, or breast MRI — visit us online to find a Touchstone Imaging clinic near you and call us to schedule your appointment today!