Medical Author:
Medical Editor:

Mammogram facts

  • Mammograms are images of the breast tissue produced on X-ray film.
  • Mammograms are the most efficient screening method to detect early breast cancer.
  • A mammogram only takes a few seconds and may be mildly uncomfortable.
  • An abnormal mammogram does not necessarily mean that a cancer is present; other tests, including biopsy, MRI, or ultrasound examination may be performed for further clarification of an abnormal mammogram.
  • A normal mammogram does not exclude the presence of cancer.
  • Screening mammography is performed at regular intervals to detect abnormalities.
  • Diagnostic mammography is a procedure that is performed when a screening mammogram is insufficient or a potential abnormality is detected and involves additional images of the breast.
  • Diagnostic mammography takes longer than screening mammography because more X-rays are needed to obtain several angles views of breast.

Disease Prevention in Women Pictures Slideshow: Essential Screening Tests Every Woman Needs

What is a mammogram?

A mammogram is an X-ray test that produces an image of breast tissue on film. This technique, called mammography, is used to visualize normal and abnormal structures within the breasts. Mammography, therefore, can help in identifying cysts, calcifications, and tumors within the breast. It is currently the most efficient screening method to detect early breast cancer. Physical examinations typically find breast cancers when they are much larger than those detected by mammography.

Mammography can be used to discover a small cancer in a curable stage; however, it is not foolproof. Depending a woman's age and other factors, approximately ten to fifteen percent of breast cancers are not identified by mammography, and these cancers are often found by physical examination. It is important for a woman to perform monthly BSE and have a breast examination by her doctor in addition to the mammogram in order to most effectively screen for breast cancer.

The American Cancer Society recommends that a woman obtain her first baseline mammogram at the age of 40. After that, she should receive a yearly mammogram. Women who are at high risk for developing breast cancer may need to obtain mammograms earlier than these recommendations and at more frequent intervals. Medicare, Medicaid, and most private insurance companies generally cover the cost of mammography.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 10/26/2015

Patient Comments

Viewers share their comments

Mammogram - Experience Question: Please describe your experience with mammogram procedure.
Mammogram - Breast Implants Question: Please share your experience with mammograms and breast implants.
Mammogram - Pain Question: Are mammograms painful for you? What healthy tips can you share that may make a mammogram less painful for others.
Mammogram reminder breast cancer

Breast Cancer Early Signs and Diagnosis

How do physicians diagnose breast cancer?

The most common sign of breast cancer is a new lump or mass in the breast.

Although breast cancer can be diagnosed by the above signs and symptoms, the use of screening mammography has made it possible to detect many of the cancers early before they cause any symptoms.