What is a mammogram?
A mammogram is a safe, low-dose x-ray exam of the breasts to look for changes that are not normal. The results are recorded on x-ray film or directly into a computer for a doctor called a radiologist to examine.
A mammogram allows the doctor to have a closer look for changes in breast tissue that cannot be felt during a breast exam. It is used for women who have no breast complaints and for women who have breast symptoms, such as a change in the shape or size of a breast, a lump, nipple discharge, or pain. Breast changes occur in almost all women. In fact, most of these changes are not cancer and are called “benign,” but only a doctor can know for sure. Breast changes can also happen monthly, due to your menstrual period.
How is a mammogram done?
As you stand in front of a special x-ray machine, the person who takes the x-rays, called a radiologic technician, places your breasts, one at a time, between an x-ray plate and a plastic plate. These plates are attached to the mammogram machine and compress the breasts to flatten them. This spreads the breast tissue out to obtain a clearer picture. You will feel pressure on your breast for a few seconds. It may cause you some discomfort; you might feel squeezed or pinched. This feeling only lasts for a few seconds, and the flatter your breast, the better the picture. Most often, two pictures are taken of each breast — one from the side and one from above. A screening mammogram takes about 20 minutes from start to finish.
Types of Mammograms
A digital mammogram also uses x-ray radiation to produce an image of the breast, but instead of storing the image directly on film, it stores the image of the breast directly on a computer. This allows the recorded data to be magnified for the doctor to take a closer look. Current research has not shown that digital images are better at showing cancer than x-ray film images in general. But, women with dense breasts who are pre- or perimenopausal, or who are younger than age 50, may benefit from having a digital rather than a film mammogram. Digital mammography may offer these benefits:
Where can I get a high-quality mammogram?
Women can get high quality mammograms in breast clinics, hospital radiology departments, mobile vans, private radiology offices, and doctors’ offices. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) certifies mammography facilities that meet strict quality standards for their x-ray machines and staff and are inspected every year. You can ask your doctor or the staff at the mammography center about FDA certification before making your appointment.
A list of FDA-certified facilities can be found on the Internet at: www.fda.gov/cdrh/mammography/certified.htm.
Your doctor, local medical clinic, or local or state health department can tell you where to get no-cost or low-cost mammograms. You can also call the National Cancer Institute's Cancer Information Service toll free. Visit them online at www.cancer.gov.
Free Mammograms and information by state:
You can find out more about mammograms by contacting womenshealth.gov or the following organizations:
American Cancer Society
Breast Health Access for Women With Disabilities
The clinic is located at 2001 Dwight Way, Berkeley, CA. For more information or to schedule an appointment call (510) 204-4866.
Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation
National Cancer Institute's Cancer Information Service