Mammogram FAQ

When should I start having mammograms?
Guidelines for screening mammography are confusing, but all publications in the medical literature acknowledge that annual screening mammography beginning at age 40 saves the most lives.

What if I am anxious about finding something abnormal on a mammogram?
Don’t be afraid of mammograms! Remember that only 2 to 4 screening mammograms in 1,000 lead to a diagnosis of breast cancer.

Is the radiation from a mammogram harmful?
We are all constantly exposed to a low level of radiation occurring in nature. The radiation dose from a screening exam is equivalent to about 2 months of natural background radiation (i.e two months of living in San Francisco).  The risk of developing cancer from the dose of radiation from regular mammograms is so small it isn’t really quantifiable.  The benefit of detecting breast cancer early far outweighs any theoretical risk.

Are there any special instructions for having a mammogram?
On the day of the exam, don’t wear deodorant or antiperspirant. Some of these contain substances that can show up on the x-ray as white spots.

How long does a mammogram take?
The whole procedure takes about 20 minutes. The actual breast compression only lasts a few seconds.

Will the mammogram be painful?
The breasts are compressed during a mammogram. Compression is important because it spreads out the breast tissue and allows the radiologist to see more clearly.  The benefits of compression are lower radiation dose with thinner compression and less motion artifact.  The technologist will work with you to compress as much as can be tolerated (without pain) to get the best possible mammogram.

What does it mean if I am called back to have more images taken?
7-10 out of one hundred patients will be called back for additional imaging to clarify a finding on the mammogram. Of these patients, 1-2 will be recommended to have a biopsy.

An extremely small percentage of women will be called back for additional imaging for technical reasons having nothing to do with their actual results. In these cases, the mammography technician will call you directly after the exam and ask you to return at no charge.

How will I get my results?
Once you have your mammogram, the breast center will provide you with all information about your results.

  • Normal results will be sent to you by mail and will be available on the Golden Gate patient portal.
  • If additional images are required, the breast center will contact you and arrange for your follow up. They will also alert your doctor that you are being called back.
  • If your follow up leads to a recommendation to have a biopsy, the radiologist and breast center will inform you and help you make those arrangements.