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Centers for Breast Health

Screening Mammogram FAQs

Welcome to Saint Thomas Health Services Center for Breast Health

You are to be commended for taking time for your personal well-being and breast health. We are here to serve you, and welcome your questions, comments, and suggestions. We want your experience to be convenient, caring, informative, and timely. Please read the following questions and answers so that you understand about mammograms and breast care.

Will the mammogram hurt?

During a screening (routine annual) mammogram, a technologist will position your breast carefully between two surfaces of a mammogram machine and take two views of each breast, one from the side and one from the top. For a few seconds, pressure is applied to flatten the breast and get a good, clear picture. Firm compression is an important part of quality mammography.

Women differ in their tolerance of compression. Most women compare the degree of discomfort to wearing a pair of tight shoes. We do not want to hurt you. Please talk to the technologist as she applies pressure so that she can find a balance between your comfort and the necessary pressure. If the pressure is painful, let the technologist know immediately. You may have some breast tenderness following the exam.

Will the mammogram cause cancer?

Many women are concerned about the amount of radiation exposure during their mammogram. Mammography is low dose x-ray, and the degree of exposure is minimal. Safety of the machines has improved significantly over the past 20 years, and their safety is continually monitored. The radiation and breast compression from the mammogram do not cause cancer.

How will I know about my results?

A radiologist will interpret your mammogram in after you leave. Results will be forwarded to your physician and will generally be available from your doctor after 3 to 5 working days. Comparison to prior mammograms is important for accurate results. If you had previous mammograms done at another facility, your report may be delayed until your prior films become available.

Additional Views

After routine mammograms, about 1 in 10 women will be called back to return for further studies. If this is your very first mammogram, the possibility of needing to return for additional views is about 1 in 4 women. Do not be alarmed if you are called back for additional views. This serves to obtain the best possible pictures and evaluate your breasts completely and accurately.

Breast tissue changes with age, weight changes, and hormonal influences. Findings which require additional study to determine if the changes are normal for you as an individual, or may be abnormal, include densities, lumps, nodules, or masses, calcifications, or distortion. Please ask the technologist or nurse if you would like more information about breast conditions and findings.

Requests for Additional Studies

If additional views or imaging studies are needed, you will be contacted within one week.

When do I need to have another mammogram?

A letter will be sent to your home approximately one-two weeks after your mammogram indicating follow-up recommendations. This letter and your physician will determine when you need to return.

How reliable is a screening mammogram?

Screening mammograms are important because they look for breast cancer in women who do not have any symptoms, and can detect most early breast cancers. However, 10-15% of breast cancers are not visible on mammograms. Therefore, routine breast examinations by a medical professional are critical for early detection. Self-breast exams are also recommended. If you discover something new or changed about your breast, you should notify your physician, even if you have a normal mammogram.

How can I get more information about my breast health?

Center for Breast Health is dedicated to partnering with women to understand breast health and assure early detection of cancer.  Additionally, we strive to provide information and support throughout your care. Technologists and nurses are available to answer questions and provide information and free literature for each woman’s unique needs. A library of educational materials is available at the center. If you need information about Breast Self Examinations (BSE) or breast cancer risk and prevention, please ask. Please let us know how we can help. If you have questions after you leave, call 284-5239 (LADY) and ask to speak with a nurse.

How important are breast exams by my physician and me?

The American Cancer Society guidelines for early detection of breast cancer are:
  • Mammography: At age 40, women should begin yearly screening mammograms. Your doctor may recommend having your first mammogram at an earlier age or more often, depending on your medical and family history.
  • Breast Self-Examination: Beginning at age 20, women are encouraged to become familiar with how their breast usually feel, and what is normal for them. Because many breast cancers are detected by women themselves, knowing one’s own body and detecting changes early is one of the best ways to take care of yourself.
  • Clinical Breast Examination: Beginning at age 40, a clinical breast exam by a clinician every year is recommended. For women between the ages of 20 and 39, a clinical breast exam is recommended every one to three years.

How often will insurance pay for mammograms?

Please check with your insurance company regarding the terms of your insurance coverage and any requirements for reimbursement. You will receive a bill from Saint Thomas Health Services Center for Breast Health and the radiologist group who interpret your mammograms.

Medicare pays for annual screening mammography and interpretation, and recognizes the importance of older women having annual mammograms.