Annual Screening Mammograms FAQ

You may have just had your 40th birthday, you’ve recently felt a lump during your self-breast exam or maybe you have a strong family history of breast cancer, and your primary care provider has started talking about annual screening mammograms. You have questions—what is a screening mammogram? What are your screening options? What is next? We’ve answered some of the most common questions that our medical providers receive about annual screening mammograms to help you better understand what to expect.


What is a mammogram?

A mammogram is a low dose x-ray that allows our radiologist, Dr. John Waddell, to look for changes in breast tissue. Mammograms find or detect breast cancer early, which is crucial for a successful treatment.

A mammogram uses a machine that is specifically designed to look only at breast tissue and takes x-rays at a much lower dose than usual x-rays. Today’s mammogram machines are digital, enabling radiologists to better examine the images and find smaller areas of concern.


When should I start annual screening mammograms?

The American Cancer Society suggests that women begin considering annual screening mammograms at age 40. However, if you have a strong family history of breast cancer, talking with your primary care provider earlier is suggested. Depending upon that history, your provider may suggest starting annual screening mammograms earlier.


What is the difference between a screening mammogram and a diagnostic mammogram?

There are two different reasons for mammograms—screening mammograms and diagnostic mammograms.

Annual screening mammograms are routinely administered to detect breast cancer in women who have no apparent symptoms. These mammograms should be performed annually on women who are 40 years of age and older, in most cases.

Diagnostic mammograms are utilized after suspicious results on a screening mammogram or after signs of breast cancer have alerted a physician to check the tissue (lumps, breast pain, nipple discharge, thickening of breast skin, changes in size or shape of the breast).


Do I need a referral for an annual screening mammogram?

No! Once you are of age, you do not need a referral for a screening mammogram. However, a diagnostic mammogram does require a referral from your primary care provider.


Are mammograms painful?

We know—there is a stigma associated with mammograms. Many women say that they are uncomfortable.

Some women do find the pressure of the plates that squeeze the breasts to be uncomfortable (this is in order to produce the clearest images possible). So timing your mammogram when your breasts are not tender is important! In premenopausal women, avoid making your mammogram appointment during the week prior to your period, as that is the time many women’s breasts are more tender and swollen.

If you do experience discomfort or pain, ask the technologist to re-position you to try to make it as painless as possible. Remember that each x-ray takes just a few moments, and isn’t your life worth it?


What are my screening options at WMMC?

WMMC provides multiple mammogram options to meet the needs of everyone. For mammography, WMMC offers both 2D and 3D mammograms.

3D mammography, also called breast tomosynthesis, is an FDA-approved advanced technology that takes multiple images, or x-rays, of breast tissue to recreate a 3D picture of the breast (traditional mammography obtains just a single image). 3D mammography gives our radiologist a more complete, full image of breast tissue, making it much easier to detect breast cancer. WMMC encourages every woman to consider 3D mammography, especially women with dense breast tissue.


What is the cost for an annual screening mammogram?

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) dictates that annual mammogram screenings be given without a co-pay or deductible beginning with plan years starting after August 1, 2012. However, health plans that were in place before the ACA was passed, called grandfathered plans), do not have to cooperate. Those plans are covered by various state and federal laws.

We encourage each patient to contact their healthcare plan provider to learn more about the cost of an annual screening mammogram based upon their plan, as each plan will be different. Additionally, 3D mammograms do require an upfront $50 payment.


Are there risks associated with mammograms?

Special care is taken to make sure that the lowest possible amount of radiation is used during a mammogram. However, it is important to be aware that there is exposure. That is why it is not encouraged to have annual screening mammograms prior to the age of 40 unless advised by your healthcare provider. WMMC encourages every patient to discuss a screening mammogram with their primary care provider should they have any concerns about their particular situation.


What can I expect at my mammogram?

When you arrive for your mammogram, the technologist will greet you and bring you into the mammography exam area. You will then be asked to complete a questionnaire concerning your breast history. After you finish this, you’ll change into a “cape” and the technologist will begin the mammography exam, either a 2D or 3D mammogram. When the exam is complete the technologist will let you get dressed and tell you when you can expect the results of your mammogram.


How should I prepare for my screening mammogram?

On the day of your mammogram, there are a few things to consider when getting ready:

  • Do not use deodorant, perfume, powder or lotions under your arms or on your breasts.
  • Wear a two piece clothing set—a top and bottoms instead of a one piece jumper or dress.

Additionally, if you have had any mammograms at another facility, the technologist will work with you to have those images sent through to our facility. Please allow 30 days for results if we need to send for previous images.

Lastly, if you have breast implants, be sure to tell us during scheduling your appointment, or prior to the day of, so that the radiologist and technologists know in advance and can take the appropriate steps to ensuring that all breast tissue is photographed.


I’m sold—how can I schedule my screening mammogram at WMMC?

If you are considering annual mammogram screenings, WMMC is here for you. To schedule an appointment, call (660) 262-7370 Monday – Friday 8:00 am – 5:00 pm.

Please be prepared to validate your personal and insurance information at the time of the call.

WMMC is proud to be a leading diagnostic facility in the West Central Missouri area. We hope that you will choose us as your partner for breast health, closer to home.