What you need to know about getting a mammogram
A mammogram is an important step in taking care of yourself and your breasts. A mammogram is a low-dose x-ray that allows specialists to look for changes in breast tissue that aren’t normal. The American Cancer Society recommends that starting at age 40 women at average risk should have the choice to begin yearly mammograms. Women should begin yearly mammograms at age 45, and they can switch to every 2 years at age 55. And all women, no matter their age, need to let their doctor know about any changes to their breasts.Whether you’re a mammogram newbie or a veteran, knowing what to expect may help you navigate the process more smoothly. Talk to your doctor about the breast screening plan that is best for you.
What to expect: The entire procedure takes about 20 minutes. The breast is compressed for a few seconds while an x-ray picture is taken. The breast is repositioned (and compressed again) to take another view. This is then done on the other breast. Flattening the breast tissue, while uncomfortable for some women, provides a clearer view of the breast and lessens the amount of radiation needed to take an x-ray picture.
Getting the results: You should get your results within 30 days. If you don’t, you should call to ask about them. If doctors find something suspicious, you’ll likely be contacted within a week to take new pictures or get other tests. But that doesn’t mean you have cancer. A suspicious finding may be just dense breast tissue or a cyst. Other times, the image just isn’t clear and needs to be retaken. If this is your first mammogram, your doctor may want to look at an area more closely simply because there is no previous mammogram for comparison.
What you pay: Under the Affordable Care Act, Medicare and almost all private insurance plans now cover annual mammograms, with no co-pay or other out-of-pocket costs. Medicaid also covers mammograms. For uninsured or low-income women, free or low-cost programs are available. Some programs are held during Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October, while others are offered year-round. Call the American Cancer Society at 1-800-227-2345 to find a program near you.