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Frequently Asked Questions: Mammograms


A mammogram is done to help screen for or detect breast cancer. Many small tumors can be seen on a mammogram before they can be felt. Mammograms do not prevent breast cancer or reduce a woman’s risk of developing cancer, however; regular mammograms assist in detecting breast cancer in its early stages.

Below is a list of frequently asked questions about mammograms. If you have additional questions or concerns, please speak with your health care provider.

What is the recommended age to start breast screening?

Women of average risk for breast cancer should begin screening mammography at age 40 and continue screening annually. Those patients at increased risk for breast cancer may begin screening sooner. Women between the ages of 20 to 39 with average risk should receive a clinical breast exam once every one to three years. All women are encouraged to discuss their individual risk factors with their health care provider.

How do I know if I am at increased risk of developing breast cancer?

Women who may be at increased risk for developing cancer include those with history of radiation therapy to the chest, genetic mutation including an abnormality in the BRCA 1/BRCA or CHD1 genes, Bannayan-Rilet Syndrome, history of lobular carcinoma in situ, or a strong family history of breast cancer. Women and men with a strong family history should consider speaking to a genetic counselor.

What are the benefits of a regular mammogram?

Multiple prospective trials have shown significantly reduced mortality from breast cancer for women who undergo mammographic screening compared to those who do not.

What is the difference between a screening mammogram and a diagnostic mammogram?

According to the American Cancer Society, a screening mammogram is used when the patient does not have any concerning symptoms such as a lump in the breast, nipple discharge or breast skin changes. This exam usually consists of two standard images of each breast.

A diagnostic mammogram is performed for any concerning symptom. It consists of two standard images of each breast plus more focused images of the area(s) of concern. The additional pictures allow for more accurate and effective characterizations of the symptom.

Concerning symptoms include: a new lump in your breast, enlarged lymph nodes in the armpit, changes in the breast size, shape, skin texture, and/or color, skin redness, dimpling or puckering of the skin, scaliness of the breast, nipple pulling to one side, a change in direction of the nipple or new spontaneous bloody or clear nipple discharge from only one breast.

What is the difference between 2-D and 3-D mammography (tomosynthesis)?

A 2-D mammogram takes two-dimensional images of the breast: one from the top and the other from the side.

A 3-D mammogram acquires an extensive imaging data set that is reformatted into multiple thin slices of the breast tissue. This allows the radiologist to look through the layers of normal breast tissue and detect small findings that may not be visible on the conventional 2-D mammogram.

What is tomosynthesis and what are the benefits?

Tomosynthesis (3-D mammogram) is a new imaging technique that provides a three-dimensional image series for each breast. This allows the radiologist to see between the normal breast tissues and identify small areas of concern that are typically hidden in conventional 2-D images. The benefits are increased cancer detection rates by up to 30-40%, with 30-40% lower false-positive findings.

If I have small breasts can I get cancer?

Yes. All women are at risk for breast cancer regardless of breast size.

What does it mean if the skin on my breast is a different texture or color?

It might not mean anything, but it could be the sign of an infection or cancer. Any new skin changes of the breast should be evaluated by your health care provider.

If the skin is unusually warm and tender to the touch, red or a different color than normal, or you experience any swollen sensation with skin that resembles an orange peel, please speak to your health care provider immediately.

Can men get breast cancer?

Yes, men can get breast cancer, but their risks are much lower (approximately 100 times less). The American Cancer Society estimates that 2,600 new cases of invasive male breast cancer will be diagnosed this year, and approximately 440 men will die from breast cancer.

Should I get mammograms if I have implants?

Yes, mammograms can and should be performed on women with implants.

How much radiation exposure is there with a mammogram?

The amount of radiation exposure experienced during a mammogram is equivalent to a flight from Houston to Denver.

Do I need a physician’s order for a mammogram?

No order is necessary for a breast screening mammogram, however, a physician who is managing your care is required. Results of your mammogram will be sent back to that physician, and you will receive a summary letter of your exam from Memorial Hermann in the mail.

How do I schedule a mammogram?

Memorial Hermann has multiple locations throughout the Houston area that offer mammography.

To schedule your mammogram, click here or call 877.40.MAMMO.

If you have had other mammograms at a non-Memorial Hermann facility, please bring your scans to the appointment for the radiologist to review.