Frequently Asked Questions
Answers to Common Questions
Other than skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer in American women. Every woman has a chance of getting breast cancer. About one in eight women will find out she has breast cancer at some point in her life. This might sound scary. But today, fewer and fewer women are dying from breast cancer. Many women have overcome breast cancer and are living life to its fullest. With breast cancer screening tools, including mammograms, doctors often can find cancer early. Treatment is more likely to work well when cancer is found early.
It is recommended that women have mammograms performed annually starting at the age of 40, especially if there is a history of breast cancer in the family. Use our screening resource tool to find out if you need a mammogram and if you qualify for payment assistance.
A mammogram is a low-dose X-ray exam of the breasts that looks for changes that are not normal. The results are recorded on X-ray film or directly into a computer for a radiologist to examine.
A mammogram allows the doctor to have a closer look for changes in breast tissue that cannot be felt during a breast exam. Mammograms are used for women who have no breast complaints and for women who have breast symptoms, such as a change in the shape or size of a breast, a lump, nipple discharge or pain.
What are some common breast changes? Breast changes can happen monthly due to your menstrual period. Breast changes occur in almost all women. In fact, many of these changes are not cancer and are benign, but a doctor should always guide any testing and interpretation of test results in women being seen with breast symptoms.
Most private health insurance plans, as well as Medicaid and Medicare, cover the cost of mammograms; deductions may apply. Medicare is required by law to cover one mammogram for women from age 35 to 39 and annual screenings after that.
If you do not have insurance, please call the ABC4WT toll-free number at 1.855.ABC.4WTX (1.855.222.4989) for more information.
Please do not let this keep you from taking care of yourself. If you do not have insurance, please call the ABC4WT toll-free number at 1.855.ABC.4WTX (1.855.222.4989) for more information.
Your personal physician prescribes a mammogram, and it is conducted by a technician, which is then evaluated by a radiologist. If concerns arise with the test results, you will be referred back to your physician.
If you do not have a primary care physician, please call the ABC4WT toll-free number at 1.855.ABC.4WTX (1.855.222.4989) for more information.
In the United States, you should have mammography performed only at a facility accredited by the American College of Radiology (ACR) - quality is critical. ACR guidelines set standards for doctors who read the films, technicians, reports, mammography machines and film-developing materials. Accreditation by the ACR means that the radiologists and technicians are specially trained and certified in mammography and that the equipment meets standards and is inspected regularly.
You'll probably have many different options in choosing where to get a mammogram. Today, mobile units, freestanding centers and traditional hospital settings are all options.
If you do not have know where to go, please call the ABC4WT toll-free number at 1.855.ABC.4WTX (1.855.222.4989) for more information.
It is recommended that women starting at age 40 have mammograms performed every one to two years, especially if there is a history of breast cancer in the family. If you are classified as high risk for breast cancer, your physician may recommend earlier or more frequent exams.
You stand in front of a special X-ray machine. The person who takes the X-rays, called a radiologic technician, places your breasts, one at a time, between an X-ray plate and a plastic plate. These plates are attached to the X-ray machine and compress the breasts to flatten them. This spreads the breast tissue out to obtain a clearer picture.
You will feel pressure on your breast for a few seconds. It may cause some discomfort, and you might feel squeezed or pinched. This feeling only lasts for a few seconds, and the flatter your breast, the better the picture. Most often, two pictures are taken of each breast â€” one from the side and one from above. A screening mammogram takes about 20 minutes from start to finish.
Mammograms should be part of every woman's preventive health care. However many women don't know at what age to get a mammogram or how often to get one.
According to the National Cancer Institute, women age 40 and older should have mammograms every one to two years.
Women with an elevated risk of breast cancer need to talk to their doctor about how often and when to get a mammogram. Personal and family history of breast cancer, genetic mutations and other factors can increase a woman's risk of breast cancer.
There are two reasons mammograms are taken:
Screening mammograms are done for women who have no symptoms of breast cancer.
Diagnostic mammograms are done when a woman has symptoms of breast cancer or a breast lump. Diagnostic mammograms take longer than screening mammograms, because more pictures of the breast are taken.
In January 2000, the FDA approved a new way of doing mammograms, called digital mammography. This technique records X-ray images on a computer, rather than film. Digital mammography has the following advantages:
- Lowers exposure to radiation
- Allows the person taking the X-ray to make adjustments without having to take another mammogram
- Takes pictures of the entire breast, even if the denseness of the breast tissue varies
If you have a screening mammogram test result that suggests cancer, your doctor must find out whether it is because of cancer or some other cause. Your doctor may ask about your personal and family medical history. You may have a physical exam. Your doctor also may order some of these tests:
- Diagnostic mammogram to focus on a specific area of the breast.
- Ultrasound or imaging test that uses a device with sound waves to create a picture of your breast. The pictures may show whether a lump is solid or filled with fluid. A cyst is a fluid-filled sac. Cysts are not cancer. But a solid mass may be cancer. After the test, your doctor can store the pictures on video or print them out. This exam may be used along with a mammogram.
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), which uses a powerful magnet linked to a computer. MRI makes detailed pictures of breast tissue. Your doctor can view these pictures on a monitor or print them on film. An MRI may be used along with a mammogram.
- Biopsy, a test in which fluid or tissue is removed from your breast to help find out if there is cancer. Your doctor may refer you to a surgeon or to a doctor who is an expert in breast disease for a biopsy.
Hardly a month goes by that we do not hear about a new risk factor for breast cancer. It is difficult to know, however, how much each factor changes your risk. Is each risk factor additive? Does the risk go up a few percent or by more? These can be difficult questions to answer.
Most women are aware that a family history of breast cancer can increase a woman's risk of breast cancer, but they also think that any type of cancer in the family makes women more at risk for breast cancer. This is not true. Even with breast cancer, it is only first degree relatives (sister, mother, daughter) that matter. There is a tendency, especially among young women, to overestimate their risk of breast cancer and also to overestimate how much their risk can be reduced by screening mammograms.
Women age 40 and older should get a mammogram every two years. If you have risk factors for breast cancer, such as a family history of breast cancer, your doctor may want you to have mammograms every one to two years beginning when you're 20 years old. Talk with your doctor when it's time for your breasts to be checked.
Mammograms can be uncomfortable, but they don't take very long. You may find that planning to have your mammogram shortly after your period makes it less uncomfortable. Your breasts may be less tender at this time.
|Start by standing in front of a mirror. Look at your breasts with your arms at your side, with your arms raised behind your head, and with your arms on your hips and your chest muscles flexed.|
|Next, lie down with a pillow under your left shoulder. Put your left hand behind your head and feel your left breast with the pads of the three middle fingers on your right hand. Start at the outer edge and work around your breast in small circles, getting closer to your nipple with each circle. After you've finished checking your breast, squeeze your nipple gently and look for discharge (fluid coming out of the nipple).|
|Do the same thing to your right breast with a pillow under your right shoulder.|
|Be sure to include the area up to your collarbone and out to your armpit. You have lymph nodes in this area. Cancer can spread to lymph node tissue.|
Reproduced with permission from Breast Cancer: Steps to Finding Breast Lumps Early from the September 2004 issue of http://familydoctor.org/online/famdocen/home/common/cancer/risk/018.html. Copyright © 2004 American Academy of Family Physicians. All Rights Reserved
This information does not form a doctor/patient relationship or serve as definitive medical advice. For more specific information, contact your personal physician.