What is a Mammogram and Why Are They Important?

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month

By K. Samantha Schaible, Benefits Manager,

Mammogram - Mobile Van

What is a mammogram?  

It is an x-ray of your breast that physicians use to detect breast cancer.  It is one of the most effective early detection methods the medical community has as some lumps may appear on the x-ray years before it may be felt.  Mammograms are recommended for women aged 40 and older or have a familial history of breast cancer.  Mammography services are generally covered 100% by insurance once every 365 days (or 1 year). 

How does a mammogram work, and what does it feel like? 

The mammogram uses a special x-ray machine that is designed specifically for your breast.  The technologist will place your breast on a plate, and then a second plate will lower to flatten the breast tissue and hold it in place while the x-ray is taken.  There are even three-dimensional (3D) mammograms that can take a series of x-rays that are clearer than the standard 2D mammogram.  Generally, the mammogram is not a lengthy process, so the two plates' pressure does not last long.  The amount of discomfort the pressure provides will vary from one woman to another, so no one can tell you exactly how your mammogram will feel. 

Typically results are received within 30 days.  If your mammogram is abnormal, don't stress.  Abnormal results are not a clear indication that you have breast cancer.  The result simply means that it is unclear if there is cancer, and further testing is required to make a final determination.  Only about 10% of all mammograms will require further testing such as an ultrasound or biopsy.  The majority of abnormal findings do not result in the diagnosis of cancer.

How can you prepare for your mammogram?  

First, talk to your doctor to determine if a mammogram is appropriate for you based upon your age and medical history.  Second, contact your insurance carrier to determine if you will have any out of pocket expense for a mammogram.  Ask if coverage is the same for both 2D & 3D mammograms.  Select a testing facility.  You may need to consult your insurance carrier’s website to ensure the facility is in-network to prevent unexpected out-of-pocket costs.  Schedule your appointment and consider if there are times of the month when your breasts may be more tender (such as near your period), causing the mammogram to be more uncomfortable at these times.  On the day of your mammogram, avoid using deodorants, powders, or lotions as this may cause confusion on the x-ray.  Dress comfortably and be prepared to disrobe from the waist up, including any necklaces or other jewelry that may be in the way.  After the appointment, if you need to you may take an over-the-counter pain medication to ease any discomfort. 

Screenings are simple, fast, and preventative.  Get yours today!