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Mammogram Myths and FAQs

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By: Madhavi Ampajwala, MD and FolaShade Lester, MD

Does it hurt to get a mammogram? 

There is minimal discomfort but you should not have pain. The technicians are amazing and help the patients feel relaxed and comfortable. 

When is the best time to get a mammogram? 

After your menstrual cycle. As the breast tissue may be sensitive during this time and 1-2 weeks before your period; it’s a good idea to do it after your menstrual period is over. 

I don’t have a family history of breast cancer, do I still need to get it? 

The risk of breast cancer is high in general for women. If we take 10 women with breast cancer, only 2 out of 10 have a family history of breast cancer and the remaining 8 out of 10 have no family history. 

Do mammograms give radiation that’s harmful? 

Mammograms expose the breasts to small amounts of radiation. But the benefits of mammography outweigh any possible harm from radiation exposure. The dose of radiation used for a screening mammogram of both breasts is about the same amount of radiation a woman would get from her natural surroundings over about 7 weeks. Modern machines use low radiation doses to get breast x-rays that are high in image quality. On average the total dose for a typical mammogram with 2 views of each breast is about 0.4 millisieverts, or mSv. (A mSv is a measure of radiation dose.) To put the dose into perspective, people in the US are normally exposed to an average of about 3 mSv of radiation each year just from their natural surroundings. (This is called background radiation.) 

When do I need to start getting mammograms? 

Starting at age 40 all women should get a yearly mammogram regardless of the family history. 

VHP recommends a yearly mammogram. 

What if I don’t have symptoms of breast cancer? 

A mammogram is a preventive test and should be done when a woman has no symptoms. If there are symptoms such as breast pain or a lump – you should seek immediate consultation with your primary care doctor. 

Why do I need a mammogram? 

A mammogram can often find or detect breast cancer early when it’s small and even before a lump can be felt. This is when it’s easiest to treat. 

What type of mammograms are available? 

2-D mammograms and 3-D mammograms or Tomosynthesis. 3-D mammograms can give clear views of the breast and are better than 2-D mammograms; however, a patient needs to check with their insurance on coverage as not all insurances cover the 3-D mammogram. 

Getting Called Back After a Mammogram: 

Getting called back is more common after a first mammogram, or when there’s no previous mammogram to compare the new mammogram with. It's also more common in women who haven’t gone through menopause. Getting called back after a screening mammogram is fairly common and doesn’t mean you have breast cancer. In fact, fewer than 1 in 10 women called back for more tests are found to have cancer. Often, it just means more x-rays or an ultrasound needs to be done to get a closer look at an area of concern. 


Dr. Ampajwala and Dr. Lester are family physicians in our team of VHP doctors. Click here to schedule an appointment with your doctor and click here to schedule your mammogram

* All information subject to change. Images may contain models. Individual results are not guaranteed and may vary.