What is a mammogram?A mammogram is an X-ray test that produces an image of the inner breast tissue on film. This technique, called mammography, is used to visualize normal and abnormal structures within the breasts. Mammography, therefore, can help in identifying cysts, calcifications, and tumors within the breast. It is currently the most efficient screening method to detect early breast cancer. Breast self-examination (BSE) on a monthly basis and examination by a doctor are still important, but physical examinations typically find breast cancers when they are much larger than those detected by mammography.
Mammography can be used to discover a small cancer in a curable stage; however, it is not foolproof. Depending a woman's age and other factors, approximately ten to fifteen percent of breast cancers are not identified by mammography, and these cancers are often found by physical examination. It is essential for a woman to perform monthly BSE and have a breast examination by her doctor in addition to the mammogram in order to most effectively screen for breast cancer. For more information, please see the Breast Cancer article.
The American Cancer Society recommends that a woman obtain her first baseline mammogram between the ages of 35 to 40. After the age of 40, she should receive a yearly mammogram. Women who are at high risk for developing breast cancer may need to obtain mammograms earlier than these recommendations and at more frequent intervals. Medicare, Medicaid, and most private insurance companies cover the cost of mammography.