- Know the facts about breast cancer
- Mammogram FAQs
- Breast self-examination
- Be proactive
- Patient stories
Know the Facts About Breast Cancer
- All women are at risk for breast cancer, and your risk increases as you get older.
- One in eight women will develop breast cancer over the course of her lifetime.
- 85 percent of women who develop breast cancer have no family history of the disease.
- Annual screenings are the key to finding breast cancer early.
- When found in its early stages, breast cancer has a 90 percent survival rate.
Mammogram Frequently Asked Questions
What are the benefits of screening mammography?
Today's high-quality digital screening mammography is the most effective tool available to physicians for detecting breast cancer before lumps can be felt or symptoms of cancer appear. Early detection of breast cancer not only helps provide a woman with more options, but also increases the possibility of a favorable prognosis.
Is there a risk of radiation exposure from having regular mammograms?
The risk of harm from radiation exposure is extremely small, and the risk decreases significantly as a woman ages. The actual radiation exposure during a mammogram is about equivalent to that of having an X-ray during a dental examination. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates that mammograms not exceed two rads (radiation-absorbed dose), the unit of measure for radiation exposure. Most mammograms actually deliver a small fraction of that amount. A woman must carefully weigh the risk of not having mammograms against that of this small radiation exposure.
What should a woman expect when having a mammogram?
Avoid using deodorant, lotions or powder under the arms or on the breasts on the day of your mammogram. A specially trained registered mammography technologist will perform the X-ray. Each digital unit has two flat surfaces, or plates, that once lowered will compress each breast for a few seconds. This compression is necessary to produce the best pictures using the lowest amount of radiation possible.
Are mammograms painful?
Some women find the pressure of the plates on their breasts to be uncomfortable or even somewhat painful. Timing your mammogram when your breasts are not tender is important. In premenopausal women, this is usually one week after your menstrual cycle. If you do experience discomfort or pain, tell the technologist, and adjustments can be made according to your tolerance.
Who pays for mammography?
Medicare covers mammography screening every year for women ages 65 and older. Most states now require health insurance policies to offer mammography screening reimbursement.
How long will my appointment take?
- Screening mammogram: 30 minutes
- Diagnostic mammogram: 1 hour
- Breast ultrasound: 30 minutes to 1 hour
- Stereotactic breast biopsy: 2 hours
- Ultrasound-guided breast biopsy: 2 hours
- Breast magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): 1.5 hours
- MRI-guided breast biopsy: 3 hours
Can I eat before my appointment?
Yes. You may eat before your mammogram or biopsy procedure.
Can I bring my children with me to my appointment?
Children are not permitted inside the breast care center. Children younger than 12 years of age may not be left unattended.
What should I wear to my appointment?
It is best to wear a two-piece outfit such as slacks and a top or a skirt and blouse.
Can I wear deodorant/antiperspirant, powder or lotion to my appointment?
Deodorant/antiperspirant, powder and lotion must be removed before breast tests or procedures. We provide cleansing wipes for your convenience, as well as deodorant/antiperspirant for afterward.
How will I get my results?
The breast radiologist’s report is faxed to your referring doctor’s office after it is finalized. A hard copy of your report will also be mailed directly to you.
When should I get my first mammogram?
The American Cancer Society and other medical groups recommend that women with an average risk of breast cancer begin annual mammograms at age 40 and continue as long as they are in relatively good health. Women in their 20s and 30s should have a clinical breast examination as part of a routine physical every three years. At 40 years of age and older, a clinical breast examination should be performed annually.
Women with a family history of breast cancer should discuss screening options with their doctor. However, many breast specialists recommend that women with a strong family history of cancer begin annual screenings at an earlier age, with a breast ultrasound or MRI in addition to regular mammograms. Breast self-examinations should be performed monthly starting at age 20.
Are there different types of mammograms, and which one should I have?
Yes, there are two types of mammograms, screening and diagnostic. The type of mammogram that is best for you depends on your medical history and breast symptoms. Houston Methodist only utilizes state-of-the-art digital mammography .
It only takes a few minutes each month to give yourself a breast self-examination, and it is an important factor in the diagnosis of breast cancer. Check your breasts a few days after your period, when your breasts are less tender. If you no longer have a menstrual cycle, simply select a regular date for your monthly self-examination.
Stand in front of a mirror:
- Start with your hands down at your sides.
- Look at both of your breasts to note any changes in size, shape, contour or dimpling.
- Check the color and texture of your skin and nipple.
- Repeat these steps with your arms slightly raised in the air.
- Repeat the steps while pushing down on your hips to tighten your chest muscles.
- Finally, examine your breasts while bending at your waist with your hands on your hips. This will allow you to check for any dimpling of the skin.
- Lie down on your back and raise your right arm behind your head.
- Carefully inspect your right breast with the pads of the three middle fingers on your left hand, using a dime-sized, overlapping circular motion in an up-and-down pattern.
- Apply different amounts of pressure (light, medium, firm) to each area of the breast.
- Make sure to check all areas where breast tissue may be found — from the underarm to the breastbone and from the collarbone to the bra line.
- Make sure you do not lift your fingers away from the skin at any time during your self-examination.
- When you have finished, lower your right arm and re-examine your right underarm.
- Repeat these steps on the left breast using your right hand.
(Source: American Cancer Society)
Risk Factors and Prevention
The breast care centers at Houston Methodist help patients evaluate risk and determine positive factors that may impact their chances of developing breast cancer. While it is difficult to accurately predict any individual's likelihood of developing breast cancer, our growing understanding of the ways in which breast cancer develops has helped doctors and scientists define categories of negative risk factors and protective factors for breast cancer.
It is important to remember that even with everything we know about breast cancer, there are still many unknowns. Every person is different, and what is appropriate for one person may not be for another.
Several risk factors may increase the incidence of breast cancer:
- Family history of breast cancer
- Personal history of breast cancer or ovarian cancer
- Prior personal history of noncancerous (benign) tumors (where the tissue is removed )
- A mutation in the BRCA1 (breast cancer type 1 susceptibility hormone) or BRCA2 (breast cancer type 2 susceptibility hormone) gene
- First period before the age of 12
- First child born after the age of 30 or having no children
- Menopause beginning after the age of 55
- Advancing age — about 80 percent of all cases occur after the age of 50
There are also lifestyle risk factors:
- Consuming more than one alcoholic drink each day
- Being overweight, especially after menopause or if excess body fat is distributed in the upper part of the body
- Taking birth control pills for four or more years before the first full-term pregnancy (may increase risk slightly)
- Using hormone replacement therapy (to treat menopausal symptoms) for four or more years
- Estrogen (naturally occurring)
- Exposure to radiation (for example, working around radiation)
These protective factors may decrease the incidence of breast cancer or recurrence of breast cancer:
- Decreased exposure to estrogen
- Medications to reduce estrogen receptivity (for example, tamoxifen)
- Medications to inhibit estrogen production (aromatase inhibitors)
- Prophylactic mastectomy (removal of both breasts when there is no sign of cancer)
- Prophylactic oophorectomy (removal of both ovaries when there is no sign of cancer)
- Having a healthy lifestyle:
- Eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables per day
- Avoid fatty foods
- Add whole grains, cereals and calcium to your diet
- Be sure to get regular exercise Avoid smoking, and consume alcohol in moderation
Take a Proactive Approach
Talking to your doctor about your risk for breast cancer is an important step to take. Houston Methodist’s breast care centers can be an important part of this process, providing information about your specific risk factors and ways you may be able to reduce your risk. These conversations are also a great way to discuss breast cancer detection — and if done early — it is one of the best ways to improve the likelihood of successful treatment.
Houston Methodist Breast Care Center Patient Stories and Videos
We invite you to view the following videos featuring patient stories from Houston Methodist and some of the treatment procedures we offer. (Please note: Treatment procedure videos contain graphic content.)