10 Things to Know About Mammograms

Released: 10/5/2017



By: Rand Stack , MD, MBA, board-certified radiologist at WESTMED


1. Get a mammogram every year. All medical organizations that publish screening recommendations strongly agree that mammograms save lives, and that women should have mammograms regularly. Yearly mammograms save more lives than do mammograms performed at less frequent screening intervals.

2. Mammograms find breast cancer at the earliest stage. Mammography is the only technique that can reliably detect breast cancer at the earliest stage (Stage 0). When diagnosed and treated at this stage, the prognosis for complete recovery is excellent.

3. Start mammograms at age 40. One sixth of all breast cancers occur in women aged 40-49. A Harvard study found that the majority (more than 70%) of women who died of breast cancer in their 40s, were among the 20% who had not had routine mammography screening.

4. Continue getting mammograms as you age. For women at all ages beyond 74, the incidence of breast cancer is greater than for all women below the age of 65. I recommend that a woman continue to have annual mammograms as long as she is in good health.

5. Women with very dense breasts may benefit from adding ultrasound or MRI. If a woman’s breasts are extremely dense, the dense tissue may obscure details on mammography. For these patients, adding ultrasound or MRI of the breasts as a supplement to mammography can improve cancer detection.

6. Film mammography is essentially obsolete. 3-D mammography and digital mammography are superior to the earlier equipment used for making mammograms on film.

7. Compression is essential. Although it may be unpleasant, compression of the breast during a mammogram is necessary for several important reasons: lowering the amount of radiation, making it easier to see abnormalities on the mammogram, and preventing motion that may blur the image.

8. Don’t be uncomfortable. If you find mammograms uncomfortable, try to schedule your mammogram between day 7 and day 10 of your menstrual cycle, when your breasts are least sensitive. Taking acetaminophen (e.g. Tylenol) before your mammogram may help as well.

9. Mammography is safe for women with breast implants. Mammograms are routinely performed on women with breast implants, with no harm to the implants. Many of the breast cancers diagnosed in women with breast implants are detected with mammography.

10. Mammograms are not exclusively for women. Mammograms are sometimes performed on men with breast enlargement. One percent of all breast cancers occur in men.