A mammogram is an X-ray of the breast that can help doctors detect breast cancer. Preparing for a mammogram can help reduce anxiety about the procedure and may lead to more accurate results.

The thought of a mammogram can be daunting, but they take just 20 minutes to complete and can save lives.

This article offers a step-by-guide to preparing for a mammogram. Knowing what to expect and how to prepare can help minimize the stress that some people experience.

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A mammogram is a part of the routine screening.

A mammogram is a diagnostic tool and a key part of routine screening for breast cancer.

A doctor may recommend a mammogram if there is a change to the breast, such as a lump, that could indicate breast cancer or if the person's age or level of risk means that they would benefit from routine screening.

Recommendations vary as to how often a person should have a mammogram, but recent guidelines from the American College of Physicians suggest the following for women who have an average risk of developing breast cancer:

Age 40–49 years: The woman should ask her doctor whether routine screening is a good idea.

Age 50–74 years: A woman should consider screening once every 2 years.

Age 75 and above: At this age, or if the person has a life expectancy of 10 years or less, there is no need to screen for breast cancer.

People whose risk of breast cancer is higher may need more frequent screening. These people include those with:

  • a personal history of breast cancer or a high risk breast lesion
  • genetic factors, such as a mutation on the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene
  • childhood radiation exposure to the chest

The American Cancer Society make different recommendations.

Each person's case will be different. The individual should ask their doctor for recommendations.

People can use the following steps to prepare for a mammogram.

Breast cancer screening can feel intimidating, but early detection of breast cancer saves lives.

According to the American Cancer Society, 99% of people who receive a diagnosis of breast cancer in the early stages and have treatment will live for at least another 5 years after their diagnosis.

For this reason, it is important to undergo screening and to ask a doctor about any unexplained or unusual changes in the breasts.

Q:

Is it dangerous to have too many mammograms?

A:

As the saying goes, “too much of any one thing can be a bad thing.” I think this is true for mammograms, which use X-rays to project an image of your breasts. Mammograms expose you to a very low dose of radiation.

A person should follow their doctor’s recommendation on how often they should screen. Having additional mammograms means higher exposure to radiation, unnecessary testing, and an increased likelihood of false positives, which can lead to anxiety.

Christina Chun, MPH Answers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.