Mammogram Myths Debunked

Mammograms are the best screening tests for breast cancer currently available. However, some people may hesitate to take one due to certain misconceptions, such as:

Myth #1

Mammograms are unnecessary.
Regular mammograms can find breast cancer signs years before physical symptoms appear

Myth #2

Mammograms hurt.
What you feel will depend on your breast size, your technologist’s skill and how much compression is needed.

Myth #3:
Mammograms cause cancer.
The risk of harm from being exposed to a mammo's very small radiation doses is extremely low.
Myth #4:
A breast lump means breast cancer.
Not all breast lumps are cancer.
Myth #5:
Breast cancer only affects women.
Some men may also develop breast cancer

Why are Mammograms Important?

Regular mammograms can find signs of breast cancer years before physical symptoms can be felt, such as unusual lumps, swelling and other breast abnormalities. However, some cases of early-stage breast cancer may not show signs or symptoms, which is why early screening is important. Your doctor may refer you for a mammogram if you have any of the following:

  • Family or personal history of breast cancer and/or ovarian cancer
  • Previous imaging results showing unusual findings
  • Biopsy showing benign mass

What Does a Mammogram Feel Like?

A mammogram can be uncomfortable due to the compression involved. Here's how mammograms are usually done:

  1. You will stand in front of a specialized X-ray machine for a mammogram.
  2. A medical technologist will place your breast on a flat plate.
  3. A parallel plate will firmly compress your breast to hold it still while the X-ray takes images.
  4. The steps above will be repeated for a side-view X-ray of your breast.
  5. Your other breast will be X-rayed in the same way.

The entire procedure may take about 10-20 minutes. More images may be needed for some women with larger breasts or implants. Medical technologists may sometimes need to tighten compression to produce clearer images for your doctor to interpret. Your breasts may be more sensitive if you are about to have or are currently having your period.

Inform your technologist if you feel any pain during the mammogram. Let your doctor know if you’ve had a previous breast injury prior to your mammogram appointment. Blood buildup or tissue scarring from injury may interfere with mammogram results.

When Do You First Get Screened for Breast Cancer?

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends that women with an average risk for breast cancer begin mammograms at age 40 to 74 years old. Women should talk to their doctor about how often they should get a mammogram.

Not all breast lumps are cancer, but only a doctor can confirm it. While some women diagnosed with breast cancer will experience breast pain, breast pain is not usually a cancer sign. Pain may be caused by fluctuating hormones, wrong bra support, injury and others. Go to a doctor if you feel a lump in your breast or other abnormalities. Your doctor may order imaging procedures to confirm the diagnosis.

Should Men Be Screened for Breast Cancer?

Breast cancer is very uncommon in men, and so there’s no general guidelines about routine breast cancer screening for men. However, men should approach their doctor if they feel a hard lump beneath the nipple and areola for proper diagnosis, as this may be a sign of breast cancer.

Make Time for Your Mammogram 

A mammogram cannot prevent breast cancer, but it can help detect the disease at its early stages when it’s easier to treat. Discuss with your doctor whether mammograms or other screening tests may be right for you, their benefits and potential risks and when you should have them.


American Association for Cancer Research
American Cancer Society
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
National Breast Cancer Foundation, Inc.
National Cancer Institute
U.S. Food & Drug Administration

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