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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:

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