You are here: Home Managing Your ... Breast Cancer Mammograms Summary
Information about all aspects of finances affected by a serious health condition. Includes income sources such as work, investments, and private and government disability programs, and expenses such as medical bills, and how to deal with financial problems.
Information about all aspects of health care from choosing a doctor and treatment, staying safe in a hospital, to end of life care. Includes how to obtain, choose and maximize health insurance policies.
Answers to your practical questions such as how to travel safely despite your health condition, how to avoid getting infected by a pet, and what to say or not say to an insurance company.


A mammogram is an X-ray of the breast, taken with special equipment. It is used to detect and evaluate changes in the breast. The resulting image is either on film or stored digitally. A mammogram includes the fat, fibrous tissues, lobes, ducts, blood vessels and the other tissues included in the breast.

  • A mammogram may be performed in a free standing radiology practice or in a hospital. 
  • A mammogram will be performed by a trained technician. 
  • Mammograms either result in a black and white picture of the breast tissue on a large sheet of film or a digital image which can be viewed on a computer.
  • The resulting image is read, or interpreted, by a radiologist (a doctor specially trained to read these kinds of tests). 

Two types of mammograms

  • Screening mammogram: a mammogram used to detect cancer
  • Diagnostic mammogram: a mammogram used when there are suspicious symptoms. Diagnostic mammograms take longer than screening mammograms because they involve more x-rays in order to obtain views of the breast from several angles.  NOTE: While waiting for a mammogram, keep in mind that 85% of suspicions raised by a physical exam turn out not to be breast cancer. 

Cost: The cost of screening mammograms varies by state and by facility


  • Screening mammograms: Most states have laws requiring health insurance companies to reimburse all or part of the cost of screening mammograms. Women are encouraged to contact their mammogram facility or their health insurance company for information about cost and coverage. 
  • Diagnostic mammograms: usually covered by health insurance.

All women age 40 and older with Medicare can get a screening mammogram each year. Medicare will also pay for one baseline mammogram for a woman between the ages of 35 and 39. There is no deductible requirement for this benefit, but Medicare beneficiaries have to pay 20 percent of the Medicare-approved amount. 

Uninsured:  If you donot have health insurance, low cost and free mammograms are available across the country. For information about finding a free or low cost mammogram, click here

While mammograms have to meet federal standards, it is still wise to ask about the schooling and experience of the people who will administer and read the test.

There are a batch of excuses that people use to avoid getting mammogram. None of them hold up under the light of logic.

NOTE: If you have a choice, digital mammography has the following advantages over standard mammography: Digital results can easily be stored, e-mailed, and converted to a format for comparison with previous mammograms. 

Additional imaging tests such as the following may also be recommended:

For additional information, see:

To Learn More

Where Can I Find A Mammogram For Low Cost Or For Free?

There are several ways to find a facility that will provide a low cost or free mammogram to women who need them who have limited financial resources.

  • Call the American Cancer Society at 800.ACS.2345
  • Some state and local health programs and employers provide mammograms free or at low cost. For example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) coordinates the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program. This program provides screening services, including clinical breast exams and mammograms, to low-income, uninsured women throughout the United States and in several U.S. territories. Contact information for local programs is available on the CDC's Web sit offsite linke at or by calling the CDC at 1-800-CDC-INFO (1-800-232-4636).
  • Information about low-cost or free mammography screening programs is also available through NCI's Cancer Information Service offsite link (CIS) at 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237
  • For free screening for women unable to pay, call your State Department Of Health. You can locate contact information for your State at: offsite link
  • You can also check with your local hospital, women's center, or other community groups to find out how to access low-cost or free mammograms.

How Can I Be Sure About The Quality Of A Particular Mammogram Facility?

Before making an appointment, call the facility and ask:

  • The date of the last FDA exam of the equipment. (You are entitled to see the certificate).
  • The name and experience of the technologist who takes the mammogram.
  • The name, education and experience of the radiologist who will interpret the mammogram.
  • The name and credentials of the medical physicist who tests the mammography equipment.

The better the schooling, and the greater the experience, the better.

Where Can I Find A High-Quality Mammogram?

Women can get high-quality mammograms in breast clinics, hospital radiology departments, mobile vans, private radiology offices, and doctors' offices.

The Mammography Quality Standards Act (MQSA) is a Federal law designed to ensure that mammograms are safe and reliable. Through the MQSA, all mammography facilities in the United States must meet stringent quality standards, be accredited by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and be inspected annually. The FDA ensures that mammography facilities across the country meet MQSA standards. These standards apply to the following people at the mammography facility:

Information about local FDA-certified mammography facilities is available through the CIS at 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237). Also, a list of these facilities is on the FDA's Web site at offsite link.

Reasons Women Use To Not Get A Mammogram And Reality

We have heard of the following excuses for not getting a mammogram. As you will see, none of them withstand scrutiny.

I'm concerned it will be uncomfortable

  • While there is some discomfort to a mammogram, a mammogram is no where near as uncomfortable as treatment for advanced breast cancer.

I'm afraid of the results.

  • Breast cancer can spread quickly. The earlier it is caught, the more likely it can be cured.

A mammogram costs too much

  • Free mammograms are available. For information, click here   

I can't afford the time.

  • It will take a lot more time if you develop breast cancer and it becomes advanced because you didn't catch it early.

I get anxious when I go for a mammogram.

  • Turn into into a fun time. Go with some girl friends. Make a day of it and give yourselves a treat after the mammograms.
  • For tips about how to deal with anxiety, click here.

Tips To Help Maximize A Mammogram Experience

When you go for a mammogram:

  • Do not wear deodorant or powder. They may produce spots that look like calcification.
  • If you are menstruating, schedule your mammogram for the first part of your cycle when breast tissue appears less dense on the resulting image.
  • If the person who will read the image is on premises when you do the test, you can ask for a preliminary reading of the x-ray. If additional tests would be recommended due to any abnormal image, they may be able to be done during the same visit.
  • If you schedule a mammogram for before a visit to the doctor, you can review together any seeming abnormalities the doctor finds at an examination.
  • If you are self conscious about exposing your breasts, you may not have to if you wear a sports bra with no metal in it .
  •  Get a copy of the results in easy to read lay language. 
    • You are entitled to such a report under federal law (the Mammography Quality Standards Reauthorization Act of 2003). 
    • Keep the copy with your other medical records.