1. They can save your life. Finding breast cancer early reduces your risk of dying from the disease by 20-30%. Women should begin having mammograms yearly at age 40 or earlier if they're at high risk.
2. Don't be afraid. It's a fast procedure (about 5-10 minutes) and discomfort is minimal. The procedure is safe; there's only a very tiny amount of radiation exposure from a mammogram. To relieve the anxiety of waiting for results, go to a center that will give you results before you leave.
3. Get the best quality you can.
a. If you have dense breasts or are under age 50, try to get a digital mammogram.
b. Bring your old mammogram films with you for comparison.
c. Have more than one radiologist read your study.
d. Ask if your center has CAD - computer aided detection - which calls the radiologist's attention to any possible areas of concern.
e. Make sure the doctor who referred you for the mammogram includes an explicit note when ordering the study (providing clinical correlations - e.g. "palpable mass in the upper outer quadrant, rule out abnormality.")
f. Correlate your results with other tests you've had done; like ultrasound or MRI.
g. Discuss your family history of breast or other cancers - from both your mother's AND father's side - with your doctor.
4. It is our most powerful breast cancer detection tool. However, mammograms can still miss 15-20% of breast cancers that are simply not visible using this technique. Other important tools - such as breast self-exam, clinical breast exams, ultrasound and MRI - can and should be used as complementary tools, but there are no substitutions or replacements for mammograms.
WHEN TO GET A MAMMOGRAM
There's a lot of confusion about when and how often to get a mammogram. For now, the recommendation is that women get a mammogram once a year, beginning at age 40. If you're at high risk for breast cancer, with a strong family history of breast or ovarian cancer, or have had radiation treatment to the chest in the past, it's recommended that you start having annual mammograms at a younger age (often beginning around age 30). This, however, is something that you should discuss with your healthcare provider.
(above courtesy of breastcancer.org website)