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Frequently Asked Questions About Mammograms

  1. Who should get a mammogram and how often?

    The Ohio Department of Health's Breast and Cervical Cancer Project follows the United States Preventative Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommendations for screening services.

    The USPSTF recommends screening mammography every 2 years for women ages 50 to 74 years.  The decision to start screening mammography in women before age 50 years should be an individual one. Women, who place a higher value on the potential benefit than the potential harms, may choose to begin screening every 2 years between the ages of 40 to 49 years. The current evidence is insufficient to assess the balance of benefits and harms of screening mammography in women age 75 years and older.

    These recommendations apply to asymptomatic women aged 40 years or older who do not have preexisting breast cancer or a previously diagnosed high-risk breast lesion and who are not at high risk for breast cancer because of a known underlying genetic mutation (such as a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation or other familial breast cancer syndrome) or a history of chest radiation at a young age.

  2. Can a mammogram always find breast cancer?

    Mammograms are quite accurate, especially in women over 50. Mammograms are the best method to detect breast cancer early when it is easier to treat and before it is big enough to feel or cause symptoms. However, mammograms are not perfect. Sometimes a mammogram film will show something that might be a tumor, but further tests show that it is not. Conversely, a mammogram film will sometimes look like everything is normal, but the woman actually has a small tumor. 

    Women need to be aware that Inflammatory Breast Cancer (IBC) is an aggressive type of breast cancer that often is not detected by a mammogram.  Women who observe a rash, dimpling, inversion of the nipple, or redness on the breast should be examined to rule out IBC.  Biopsy and/or MRI may be the best means to detect IBC.

  3. What happens if the doctor feels a lump, but the mammogram doesn’t show anything?

    Whenever a doctor or nurse finds a suspicious lump during a clinical breast exam, extra tests should be done, even if the mammogram results are normal. Most often the woman will get an ultrasound, which is a painless breast exam that uses sound waves. Another option is to see a breast specialist, such as a breast surgeon, who will repeat the clinical breast exam.

  4. What is mammography?  

    A mammogram is an X-ray of the breast.  To prepare for mammography, a woman will remove clothing above the waist and put on a hospital gown.  The mammogram X-rays are taken by a radiological technician (RT).  The RT will help position the woman in relation to the mammography unit in order ensure an accurate film.  Breasts are X-rayed one at a time.  To obtain the X-ray, the breast is positioned on a clear, flat plate. Another plate is lowered onto the breast, compressing it, and the X-ray is taken.  Each breast is X-rayed at one angle, then again at another angle.  After the breasts are X-rayed, the RT will typically check the films to be certain they are good ones.

    Mammography may be offered in a variety of clinic settings, including clinic, hospital and mobile unit.  A woman may be advised to remove deodorant, antiperspirant or lotion prior to mammography.

    Note: The information given above is for educational purposes only. These questions and answers should not replace a discussion with a doctor if you think you might have breast or cervical cancer.


    For More Information

    Please visit the following resources for more information on screening recommendations:

    Breast Cancer Screening Final Recommendations

    Breast Cancer: Screening (Release Date: January 2016)  

    Screening for Breast Cancer: Consumer Guide

    BCCP Resources Page


    Last Reviewed 05/08/2018