Did you know that breast cancer is the second most common cancer in women in the United States, second only to skin cancer?

The good news is that mammography technology has reduced breast cancer mortality in the United States by 33 percent over the last 20 years. Only 5 out of 1000—or 0.5 percent—of  women who undergo a screening mammography are diagnosed with breast cancer.  While the chance of a negative diagnosis is in your favor, it is still important to schedule your annual mammogram.

What is a mammogram?

It is a relatively painless (although sometimes uncomfortable) procedure in which the breasts are x-rayed in order to detect tissue abnormalities.  Mammograms generally take less than twenty-minutes, and are nothing to fear.

There are two types of mammograms—screening and diagnostic.  Screening mammograms are performed on women who have no history, signs, or symptoms of breast cancer. Diagnostic mammograms are used to check for breast cancer after a lump or other signs or symptoms of cancer have been found.

Mammograms and radiation exposure

Mammograms are x-rays; so, during the procedure patients are exposed to low levels of radiation of approximately 0.4 mSv (an mSv is a measurement of radiation dose). According to the American Cancer Society, “most women in the US are exposed to an average of about 3 mSv of radiation each year just from their natural surroundings”.

What are the benefits of mammography?

Mammography saves lives by detecting cancer in its earliest stages—when it is easiest to treat. It is considered the best method for detecting breast cancer because it can show changes in breast tissue up to two years before a patient or physician can feel them.

How often should I get a mammogram?

Current guidelines from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the American Cancer Society (ACS), the American Medical Association (AMA) and the American College of Radiology (ACR) recommend annual screening mammography for women, beginning at age 40.  If you are at-risk, or have previously been diagnosed with breast cancer, please consult with your doctor.