Mammography FAQs

Finding and treating breast cancer early saves lives! A mammogram is the most effective way to detect breast cancer early on. We have prepared answers to a list of some of our patients’ frequently asked questions about mammography:

Q: At what age should I start getting mammograms?
A: While advice about when to start getting mammograms can vary, we advise all women to have an annual mammogram starting at age 40, as this is the age when breast cancer rates begin to rise (this is the recommendation from The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, The American College of Surgeons, The American College of Radiology, The National Comprehensive Cancer Network, and The Society of Breast Imaging). When making recommendations, experts try to balance benefits and risks. Benefits include catching breast cancer early and saving lives. Risks can be anxiety resulting from false positives that require additional imaging.

Q: How often should I have a mammogram?
A: Yearly mammograms find more breast cancers and therefore save the most lives. In fact, 6,500 more women’s lives are saved each year by getting annual mammograms starting at age 40 compared to screening every other year starting at age 50.

Q: No one in my family has breast cancer. Do I still need to have a mammogram?
A: Yes. All women are advised to have a mammogram, even those without a family history or known risk of breast cancer. Most women who get breast cancer (75%) did not have any known risk.

Q: I have a high risk for breast cancer. Should I get a mammogram more often than once a year?
A: Women with a high risk for breast cancer may benefit from extra screening. This can include a 3D tomosynthesis mammogram, MRI, and genetic testing. You should also talk with your doctor about getting screened before age 40 if you have a family history of early onset breast cancer (age 45 or younger).

Q: What are the risks of having a mammogram?
A: The risks are low and include:

  • Anxiety – You may feel anxious when being screened for breast cancer.
  • False positives – All screening tests, including mammograms, can have a result that looks positive at first, but is later found to be negative. This is known as a false positive. Simply taking a few extra pictures of the breast clears up most mammogram false positives. Only 2% of women need a biopsy.
  • Radiation – The amount of radiation in a mammogram is very small. It is about the same amount you get from the natural environment in a 2-month period. No cancers are known to have come from mammograms.

Q: Can I have a screening mammogram if I am pregnant?
A: If there is any chance you are pregnant, let your healthcare provider and technologist know. Although the risk to the fetus is likely to be very small, screening mammograms aren’t routinely done on pregnant women.

Q: Are there different types of digital mammograms?
A: Yes. The center offers both traditional and 3D tomosynthesis mammograms.

  • Traditional Digital Mammogram: This advanced digital mammogram reduces x-ray exposure. The size of the digital images can be adjusted to show small areas of breast tissue in detail. Computer-assisted diagnosis (CAD) is used for all digital screening mammograms. This gives the radiologist a virtual “second pair of eyes.” This approach is very effective at finding breast cancer.
  • Tomosynthesis Mammogram: This 3D mammogram is very good at finding small breast cancers. It uses an X-ray tube that moves in an arc around the breast, taking digital pictures from multiple angles. Each shows a thin “slice” of the breast. This can be most helpful for women with dense breast tissue. All of our mammography units have this capability.