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Get Tested for Breast Cancer

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The Basics

Mammograms can help find breast cancer early. You have a better chance of surviving breast cancer if it’s found and treated early.

  • Women ages 40 to 49: Talk with your doctor about when to start getting mammograms and how often you need them.
  • Women ages 50 to 74: Get a mammogram every 2 years. Talk with your doctor to decide if you need one more often.

What is a mammogram?
A mammogram is an x-ray of the breast. Mammograms use a very low level of x‑rays (called radiation). A mammogram is very safe.

When you get a mammogram, the nurse will place your breasts, one at a time, between 2 plastic plates and take pictures of each breast. Mammograms may be uncomfortable for some women, but they don’t hurt.

A mammogram lasts less than 15 minutes.

What if the doctor finds something wrong with my breast?
Mammograms let the doctor or nurse look for small lumps inside your breast. If a lump is found, the doctor or nurse will do other tests to find out if it’s cancer.

The doctor or nurse may take a small bit of tissue from the lump for testing. This is called a biopsy (“BY-op-see”).

What is breast cancer?
Abnormal cells in the breast can turn into cancer. Breast cancer can spread to other parts of the body.

About 1 in 8 women in the United States will get breast cancer sometime in her life. After skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common kind of cancer in women. The good news is that many women can survive breast cancer if it’s found and treated early.

Talk to your doctor or nurse if you notice any of these changes:

  • A lump in the breast
  • A change in size, shape, or feel of the breast
  • Fluid (called discharge) coming out of a nipple

Visit these Web sites to learn more:

Take Action!

Get regular mammograms starting at age 50.

Talk with your doctor.
If you are age 40 or older, talk with your doctor about when to start getting mammograms and how often to get them.

Women ages 50 to 74 need a mammogram every 2 years. You may choose to start getting mammograms earlier or to get them more often. Together, you and your doctor can decide what’s best for you.

Schedule your mammogram.
Call your doctor or clinic today to schedule a mammogram.

What about cost?
Mammograms are covered for women over age 40 under the Affordable Care Act, the health care reform law passed in 2010. Depending on your insurance plan, you may be able to get a mammogram at no cost to you.

Check with your insurance company to find out what’s included in your plan. For information about other services covered by the Affordable Care Act, visit

You can still get a mammogram even if you don’t have private insurance.

Get support.
Use these tips to get support when you get a mammogram.

  • Talk with other women who have had mammograms to learn more about what to expect.
  • When you go to the doctor for a mammogram, ask a family member or friend to go with you.

Make sure to ask when you will get your mammogram results. When you get the results, ask the doctor or nurse to explain what the results mean.

Get your well-woman visit every year.
Talk to your doctor or nurse about other important screenings and services to help you stay healthy.

Learn about getting tested for cervical cancer and other important screening tests.

Start Today: Small Steps

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Content last updated on: August 24, 2012

National Health Information Center

P.O. Box 1133, Washington, DC 20013-1133