Frequently Asked Questions about Mammograms

What is a mammogram?

A mammogram is a low-dose x-ray of the breast that is used to detect breast cancer. It helps discover tumors or abnormalities that cannot be felt with a clinical breast exam. Mammograms help reveal unusual changes in breast tissue and can aid in the early detection and diagnosis of breast diseases in women.

Who should have a mammogram?

Annual mammograms are recommended for women beginning at age 40, and should continue as long as the woman is in good health.

Women at high risk for breast cancer should consider starting their yearly mammograms as early as age 30, but should discuss this option with their health care provider. High risk factors include:

  • Family history of premenopausal breast cancer
  • Have a known BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation – or family member with BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation
  • Have Li-Fraumeni syndrome, Cowden syndrome, or Bannayan-Riley-Ruvalcaba syndrome, or have a relative with one of these syndromes

Some women with increased risk of breast cancer should consider having an MRI in additional to a mammogram every year. High-risk patients should talk with their doctors about the benefits and limitations of adding MRI screening to their yearly mammogram.

Women in their 20s and 30s – who are not at increased risk for breast cancer – should have a clinical breast exam performed by their health care provider, preferably every 3 years. Women age 40 and older should have a clinical breast exam by a physician yearly, in addition to a mammogram. Women are also encouraged to start performing breast self-exams in their 20s and become familiar with how their breasts normally feel so they will notice any changes.

I’ve read conflicting information on what age I should start mammograms. What does South Sound Radiology recommend?

In recent years, there have been many articles questioning the value of screening mammography starting at age 40. These articles garner publicity and confuse the general public and health care providers alike on the efficacy of breast cancer screening. South Sound Radiology follows the American Cancer Society (ACS) guidelines for screening mammograms and firmly supports annual mammography screening beginning at age 40.

What is the difference between a screening mammogram and diagnostic mammogram?

Screening mammograms are typically used to look for breast cancer in women who are asymptomatic – have no signs or symptoms of the disease.

A diagnostic mammogram is used to investigate problems or concerns with your breasts such as a lump or pain. Talk to your physician about scheduling a diagnostic mammogram if you have one or more of the following symptoms:

  • New breast lump or mass
  • Swelling of all or part of the breast
  • Localized breast pain
  • Unusual skin appearance such as redness, thickening or dimpling on the nipple or breast
  • Nipple discharge
  • Nipple inversion

Please note that things other than breast cancer can cause the above symptoms. But again, talk with your health care provider about any unusual changes in your breasts.

Like screening mammograms, diagnostic mammograms are also low-dose x-rays. But while screening mammograms usually involve two x-ray images of each breast, diagnostic mammograms are customized to the individual patient and often require multiple images of the breasts.

How can I receive a screening mammogram?

Call - (360) 252-9301 to make an appointment with South Sound Radiology.

While a clinician’s referral is not required for a screening mammogram, we do need to know the name of your primary care provider so that we may send he or she a report. This ensures that a medical professional knows you as a patient and can provide any follow-up care that may be needed. It also provides a contact should our staff or radiologists need to speak to your provider.

Diagnostic mammograms require a clinician’s referral.

Are all mammography facilities of the same quality?

South Sound Radiology is an FDA Certified Mammography Facility and has achieved American College of Radiology (ACR) BICOE (Breast Imaging Center of Excellence) seal of accreditation for its mammography services. SSR is the first in the South Sound area to offer a full complement of imaging and interventional breast care services, including digital mammography, breast ultrasound, breast MRI and breast biopsies.

What is 3D mammography?

3D mammography, also known as breast tomosynthesis, is a revolutionary new screening and diagnostic tool designed for early breast cancer detection. It’s performed similarly to a regular digital mammography with the addition of 3D images. The machine moves in an arc pattern across your breasts, taking a series of very low-dose x-ray images. A computer then forms these images into 3D pictures of the breast. The radiologist can scroll through these images to get a more accurate picture of the breast.

3D mammography is approved for all women who would have a conventional mammogram in both the screening and diagnostic settings. Research shows that breast tomosynthesis, combined with 2D mammography, provides a significant reduction of false-positive recall rates by up to 40% and a greater than 24% improvement in overall cancer detection rates.

There is very low x-ray energy used during the exam, so your radiation exposure during this procedure is below FDA guidelines.

South Sound Radiology is one of the first and only facilities in the region to offer 3D mammography to patients. If you are interested in learning more about this option, please contact us for more information at (360) 252-9301.

How should I prepare for my mammogram?

  • Avoid deodorants, lotions, powders, perfumes or antiperspirants on the day of the exam. Some of these products contain materials that interfere with the reading of your mammogram. If you forget, don’t worry, we provide cleansing wipes to remove these products before the exam.
  • You will need to undress from the waist up during the mammogram. So consider wearing pants, shorts or a skirt to your appointment to make undressing easy and your exam more comfortable. A gown is provided to wear before and during the exam.
  • If you had mammograms at another facility, have those x-ray films sent to the new facility before your exam so they can be compared.
  • You’ll be asked to complete a patient history form at your appointment. Come prepared to describe any medical or family health history that may impact your breast health.

What can I expect from a typical procedure?

You will need to undress from the waist up for your mammogram, however, a gown will be provided. Remember to remove any necklaces or jewelry that can interfere with your reading. During your procedure a technologist places your breasts on an x-ray machine, designed exclusively for mammography. After making adjustments for your height, your breast is rested on the machine’s lower platform. Your technologist helps you position your body and arms to ensure the best images possible. An upper plate is then lowered and compressed against the breast.

Breasts are compressed until skin is taut. Compression helps to even out thickness, allows x-rays to penetrate the breast tissue and helps minimize radiation. You’ll be asked to hold still and hold your breath briefly while the technologist takes images of your breasts.

Compression takes only a few seconds. The entire procedure, from beginning to end, takes roughly 20 minutes. After a mammogram, you can resume your normal daily routine.

Does a mammogram hurt?

Compression and flattening of the breast is necessary to obtain a clear picture. Some women find the compression uncomfortable, but not intolerable. Our technologists at South Sound Breast Center are dedicated to making your mammogram experience as comfortable as possible. Let the technologist know if you are experiencing discomfort or pain during your mammogram, and she will work with you to achieve the best results possible.

If you’re worried about pain, consider taking an over-the-counter pain medication, such as ibuprofen or aspirin, before your procedure.

Can I have a mammogram if I’m breastfeeding?

Because lactating breasts are dense, images taken during a mammogram can be difficult to read. Mammograms may also cause increased discomfort to your breast when lactating. In general, you should wait until six months after you’ve stopped breastfeeding to have a routine screening mammogram. Regardless, if you think you have any symptoms of breast cancer you should make an appointment with your physician.

Is it safe to have a mammogram during pregnancy?

Yes, it is safe. Breast tissue, however, during pregnancy is typically dense; therefore mammogram images may be difficult to read. It’s recommended that a woman waits until after pregnancy to have a screening mammogram.

Is there a preferred time during my period cycle to schedule a mammogram?

Yes. Try and schedule your mammogram when your breasts are least likely to be swollen or tender. This will help reduce discomfort caused by compression during the exam, and helps assure a better image. If you haven’t gone through menopause, the best time for your mammogram is usually a week after your menstrual period.

I have breast implants. Will a mammogram cause damage to my implants?

While implant rupture from a mammogram is possible, it is very rare. Because the implant can obscure or hide some breast tissue, the technologist will take specialized views of your breasts and your exam might take more time than a typical routine screening. If you have breast implants, please let us know when you schedule your appointment.

How much does a mammogram cost?

Most insurances cover the cost of screening mammograms without co-pay or deductibles. But you should contact their health insurance company for specific information regarding your individual costs and coverage. For more information on South Sound Radiology’s participating insurance plans and billing information, please contact us at (360) 252-9300.

When can I expect to hear back about my results?

Our radiologists must study your images and a report is sent to your health care provider. Your provider will contact you when he or she has reviewed your results. You can also expect to receive a results letter from South Sound Radiology about a week after your exam. The letter will either state that your mammogram was clear and will remind you to schedule your appointment for next year; or it may recommend that you return for additional procedures.

Why might I need to come back for additional procedures?

Requests for return testing does not always mean you have cancer. Our radiologists review mammograms for evidence of cancer or noncancerous (benign) conditions that may require further testing or treatment such as:

  • Masses or lumps
  • Distorted tissues
  • Densities
  • Calcifications or calcium deposits
The American Cancer Society reports that only 2-4 screening mammograms out of every 1,000 lead to a cancer diagnosis. Call backs can be fairly common – especially for first-time mammograms or when there are no previous mammograms to compare. These call backs usually mean additional images are necessary to get a clearer look at a particular area of the breast.