A mammogram is an x-ray of the breast and is the method used to find breast cancer that can't be felt. Mammograms are done with a special type of x-ray machine used only for this purpose. A mammogram can show a developing breast tumor before it is large enough to be felt by a woman or even a highly skilled health care professional.
Types of Mammograms
A screening mammogram is used to detect cancer early in women who have no symptoms. It involves two views of each breast on healthy women, taken with low-dose x-rays. Each breast is compressed for a few seconds to provide the clearest image possible. Most women experience little or no discomfort, but if breasts are tender in the week before menstrual periods, mammograms should be scheduled in the week after the period.
Diagnostic mammograms are ordered when there is a palpable area in the breast or when a screening mammogram shows an abnormaility and follow up is required. They take longer than screening mammograms because they require x-ray views from several angles to give physicians a clear picture of any suspected lumps or breast changes.
A mammogram is the most effective tool for detecting breast cancer in its earliest stages. Cancer specialists, including the National Cancer Institute and the American Cancer Society, recommend that women have a baseline screening mammogram at age 40, with mammograms annually after age 40.
Women should not use powders, deodorants or perfumes before a mammogram.