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The low-dose mammogram that you’re supposed to have once a year after you turn 40 is called a screening mammogram because it tests for any signs of cancer, which may or may not be present—plus it’s recommended even if you don’t detect any symptoms. In a way, a mammogram is like a Pap smear for your breasts. It’s very important that you have a regular mammogram after you turn 40, even if you don’t detect any changes or abnormalities in your breasts. If you have a family history, it’s possible that you will be sent for a low-dose mammogram at an earlier age than 40.

A screening mammogram is an X-ray of the breast that is used to detect breast changes in women with no other signs of breast cancer. The X-ray takes a picture of the tissue within your breasts. The mammogram consists of two X-rays of each breast. A mammogram can often detect lumps before they can be felt. Mammograms use very small doses of radiation, so there is no need to become overly concerned with radiation exposure. The benefits of detecting breast cancer early far outweigh the risk of such a small dosage of radiation. The mammogram is not completely fool-proof and a small percentage of breast cancers will go undetected by the mammogram. That is why the regular clinical and self-exams are very important as well. Sometimes your mammogram will detect an abnormality that is not cancerous, so be sure to explore your options and remember that a second opinion or other tests may be useful.

Wear a two-piece outfit to your mammogram, because you’ll need to remove the top half. You won’t be able to wear deodorant because it interferes with the images. Some women carry deodorant with them for quick application after the exam is finished. During a mammogram, you will be asked to remove all clothing on your chest and all jewelry. Your breasts will be placed on a flat X-ray table and a firm but gentle pressure will be applied using a mammogram compression device. The compression may be uncomfortable but is rarely painful. The compression is used to spread the breast tissue and to provide high quality resolution and greater detection capabilities for the mammogram. Ask your provider when you can expect to hear about your results.

A diagnostic mammogram is an X-ray of the breast that is used to diagnose already detected abnormalities such as a lump, pain, nipple discharge, etc.

Click below to read about related topics.

Your Breasts
Breast Cancer Basics
The Breast Self-Exam
The Clinical Breast Exam
Breast Cancer Treatment
Other Breast Problems