A technician will position your breast between two plates. She’ll then flatten and compress it to get a better image. Each breast is X-rayed in two different positions: from top to bottom and side to side. It can be uncomfortable, but the entire process takes about 20 minutes.
Then the images get checked for possible signs of cancer.
Who Needs to Get Screened?
Several expert groups, including the American Cancer Society, recommend yearly screening mammograms starting at age 40. But not all groups agree. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends screening every 2 years from ages 50 through 74.
If your doctor tells you you're at high risk for breast cancer, or you have close family members who got the disease at an early age, you might want to consider getting screened earlier. When to start having mammograms is a decision between you and your doctor.
Most experts recommend you continue to have these screenings until you’re in your mid-70s.
What if Something Looks Suspicious?
Doctors spot questionable areas in up to 8% of women who have screening mammograms. If this happens to you, you may need more tests. Of those women asked to return for further testing, only 10% will have breast cancer.
What Is a Diagnostic Mammogram?
It can be a follow-up test after a screening mammogram that spotted something unusual. Or your doctor might recommend this test without a screening mammogram first if you have symptoms she'd like to check into further.
Some women only need more mammogram images. Other women may need an ultrasound, or a biopsy.