• Medical Author:
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

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Quick GuideDisease Prevention in Women: Essential Screening Tests Every Woman Needs

Disease Prevention in Women: Essential Screening Tests Every Woman Needs

Does a mammogram hurt?

During a mammogram the breasts are placed on a firm flat panel and a gentle, but firm pressure is applied to the breast with another panel, resulting in compression of the breast between the two panels. This can lead to some temporary discomfort that lasts only for a few seconds.

When should I get my first mammogram, and what are the breast cancer screening guidelines?

Various organizations have differing recommendations regarding the timing and frequency of mammography.

  • The American Cancer Society recommends that a woman obtain her first baseline mammogram at the age of 45 and receive yearly mammograms through age 54, followed by mammograms every 2 years for women 55 and older.
  • The US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends mammograms every other year starting at age 50 and extending through age 74.
  • Both the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American College of Radiology recommend yearly mammograms starting at age 40. Women who are at high risk for developing breast cancer may need to obtain mammograms earlier than these recommendations and at more frequent intervals.

What are the risks of mammography?

Because X-ray procedures use radiation, there is some small risk of radiation side effects to the body. The amount of radiation that is administered in mammography is exceptionally low and is approved by national and international regulatory agencies as well as the National Department of Health and Human Services. In fact, the average radiation exposure from a mammogram is less than what one would receive as a passenger on a transcontinental jet flight. However, patients who are pregnant or may be pregnant are advised to notify their requesting practitioner and radiology staff, because radiation can pose a risk to the developing fetus.

What if I have breast implants?

You should inform the mammography facility that you have breast implants at the time you make your appointment. Breast implants can also make the traditional images obtained in mammography more difficult to interpret, and mammography should be performed by a center with experience in performing mammography on patients with breast implants for best results.

How do I prepare for a mammogram?

A mammogram does not require special preparation. Women who are still having menstrual periods may find it more comfortable not to schedule a mammogram in the week prior to the expected period when breasts may be tender.

Antiperspirants, deodorants, and powders should not be worn during mammography and should be removed prior to the procedure, as these substances can make interpretation of the results more difficult. Antiperspirants can cause the images to appear foggy, and powders can sometimes simulate the appearance of microcalcifications (an abnormal finding that is sometimes associated with breast cancer).

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 10/26/2015

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