Mammogram scan guide: definition & walk-in mammogram centers
Did you know that mammograms can sometimes detect breast cancer up to three years before you can feel it in your own breasts? A mammogram’s level of detail and diagnostic accuracy make it one of the best weapons in a doctor’s arsenal for finding cancers and other diseases of the breast tissue early. Diagnosing breast cancer or other diseases in the breast tissue early tends to make treatment more effective.
What is a mammogram?
Mammogram machines are special X-ray machines designed to take images of the breasts. There are two main types of mammograms: screening mammograms and diagnostic mammograms.
Screening mammograms are preventive and can help detect breast cancer in breasts before a patient or doctor can. Women over 40 should get annual mammograms as part of their well check process. These types of breast scans take about 15 minutes and typically only include two X-ray angles.
Diagnostic mammograms can help detect breast cancer in patients who are already experiencing symptoms. These scans may take a bit longer because they take images from more than just two angles.
Doctors typically recommend that women receive mammograms once a year after turning 40. However, if you have a family history of breast cancer or ovarian cancer (particularly in your mom, sister, or daughter), talk to your physician. They may recommend that you get a mammogram before you turn 40.
How does a mammogram scan work?
During a mammogram, you will start by standing in front of the mammogram machine (a special X-ray machine). Your technologist will place one of your breasts on a plate while another plate firmly presses down on your breast from above. The plates will slowly flatten the breast, allowing the machine to capture an X-ray image of the breast tissue. You might need to repeat this process so that the mammogram machine can capture a side-view of your breast. Then, you will repeat this same process with the other breast.
You may find this process a bit uncomfortable or painful. However, the pain shouldn’t last for long after your test. The amount of pain you feel may depend on the size of your breasts, where you are in your menstrual cycle, and the skill level of your mammography technologist. It may be best to schedule your mammogram for a day where you are not on your period or not about to get your period to avoid additional discomfort.
Everyone’s breasts are a bit different and vary in terms of density, thickness, and fatty tissue, so your mammogram results may look different than other peoples’. Your doctor will typically be able to let you know whether or not there is anything to worry about on your mammogram results within a few weeks.
What can mammograms detect?
Mammograms are central to proper breast cancer screening. Doctors typically use mammograms to screen for, identify, and diagnose breast cancer.
Mammograms also show:
- Distortions in tissue.
- Breast density.
- Changes in the breast.
How much does a mammogram cost?
The cost of a mammogram depends on your location, your medical provider, whether you are receiving a screening mammogram or a diagnostic mammogram, and several other factors. If mammograms are covered under your health insurance plan (most preventive mammograms are), it may lower your cost.
Mammogram safety & risks
Though sometimes uncomfortable or painful, mammograms are generally regarded as safe scans. As is the case with any X-ray, some ionized radiation given is given off during the scan, and radiation at high doses may lead to an increased risk for developing cancer. However, because this type of medical imaging only uses a very small amount of radiation, this risk is quite low.
Generally, the benefits of mammograms far outweigh the risks of these extremely helpful diagnostic imaging tools.
Before your scan, be sure to let your doctor and technologist know whether you have any medical conditions, are pregnant or breastfeeding, or are experiencing pain in any area of your body - especially your breasts.
How to find a mammogram center near you
There are multiple ways to find and book mammogram breast screenings near you. You can use scan.com to easily search for mammography technologists and radiologists in your area. Find a mammogram scan center near you by using scan.com’s scan search tool.