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    Frequently Asked Questions: Mammograms

    What are the benefits of screening mammography?

    Technician healping woman during mammogram

    Today's high-quality screening mammogram is the most effective tool available to physicians to help find 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 the possibility of successfully treating the cancer.

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

    You may want to ask your physician about the amount of radiation used during the procedure and the risks related to your particular situation. It is a good idea to keep a record of your past history of radiation exposure, such as previous scans and other types of X-rays, so that you can tell your physician about them. Risks associated with radiation exposure may be related to the cumulative number of X-rays and/or treatments over a long period of time. 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 that opens in the front, and stand next to the X-ray machine. The breast is placed on a flat shelf and a plastic plate is lowered to compress the 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 you can be repositioned and 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.