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Frequently Asked Questions: Mammograms

What are the benefits of screening mammography?

Picture of a woman during a routine mammogram

Today's high-quality screening mammogram is the most effective tool available to detect breast cancer before lumps can be felt or symptoms appear. Early detection of breast cancer not only helps provide a woman with more options, but also increases her chances of having the best possible outcome.

Is there a risk of radiation exposure from having regular mammograms?

You may want to ask your doctor about the amount of radiation used during the procedure and the risks related to your particular situation. Special care is taken to ensure that the lowest possible amount of radiation is used when you have a mammogram.

What should a woman expect when having a mammogram?

A woman should not use deodorant, powder, or lotions and should wear two-piece clothing on the day of her mammogram. A specially-trained radiology technologist, who will perform the X-ray, will ask the woman to undress, put on a gown, and stand next to the X-ray machine. Two flat surfaces, or plates, are slowly squeezed together and compress each breast for a few seconds. This compression may be somewhat painful, but it is necessary to produce the best pictures using the lowest amount of radiation possible.

Are mammograms painful?

Some women find the pressure of the plates on their breasts to be uncomfortable or even painful. Timing your mammogram when your breasts are not tender is important. In premenopausal women, this is usually one week after your menstrual period. If you do experience discomfort or pain, tell the technologist so that she can reposition you to try to make it as painless as possible. Remember that each X-ray takes just a few moments and could save your life.

Who pays for mammography?

Medicare covers annual mammography screenings for women ages 65 and older. Most states now require that health insurance policies offer mammography screening reimbursement. In addition, many mammography facilities also offer special programs and lower fees during National Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October.

For low income women, mammograms are covered through the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program. For more information, contact your state Department of Health.

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