Answers to All Your Mammogram Questions
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Published on October 26, 2021

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Answers to All Your Mammogram Questions

The mammogram is among the most effective tools to detect breast cancer, a disease that will cause an estimated 43,000 deaths in the United States this year.

While almost everyone knows what the word means, there are many questions beyond basic definitions when it comes to mammograms.

“We still have many women who might not know when to schedule their exam, or feel it’s not really necessary unless they have a history of cancer in their family,” said Katie VanBeek, Director of Avera Breast Health and Radiation Oncology with the Avera Cancer Institute.

“Confusion can lead to delays, and delays can lead to the development of cancer. That’s why timely mammograms are important for every woman.”

What is a Diagnostic Mammogram?

A screening mammogram is a test that uses X-rays to create images of the breast. They are stored digitally and a specialist physician, a radiologist, reviews the images to screen for warning signs of breast cancer. The test is considered the best way to find cancers at an early stage when chances of treatment to cure the disease are highest.

A diagnostic mammogram is the same but it’s used as a follow-up when something abnormal is found in your screening mammogram or during a clinical breast exam. This test doesn’t “diagnose” cancer – but it can help your provider see if the irregular findings are cancer.

How Often Should I Have a Mammogram?

Women who are ages 40–44 should have the option to start their yearly breast cancer screening with a mammogram. Family history of cancer, as well as other factors, can help shape their decision. Talk to your provider about when you should start your annual schedule for mammograms.

Women ages 45–54 should have a yearly mammogram; at age 55, women should switch to having the test every two years, or as recommended by their primary care provider.

How Should I Prepare for a Mammogram?

Wear a two-piece outfit, and omit the following from your routine:

  • Deodorant
  • Lotion
  • Perfume
  • Powders

Does it Hurt?

The compression will only last for a few seconds, in each position, and may feel uncomfortable, but it should not be painful.

How Long Does It Take?

The test will take about 30 minutes, not including the time for checking in and disrobing.

How Much Does a Mammogram Cost?

Most health insurance coverage, including Medicare and Medicaid, cover the cost of mammograms. The Affordable Care Act requires all new health insurance plans cover this test for women 40 and older every one or two years with no out-of-pocket costs.

Women who have no insurance or who have coverage that does not include mammograms can find national resources to help offset costs. The programs include the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program.

Schedule your screening.

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