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Decision Assist



The purpose of this tool is to help you decide whether or not to have a mammogram. When making a decision like this, you must balance:

  • The reasons for having the test
  • The potential health risks, drawbacks, or limitations of the procedure
  • Whether there are alternative procedures that may be more appropriate
  • Cost

This tool is not a substitute for professional medical care and advice. Work with your doctor to help you make this decision. A second opinion from another doctor may be valuable. There is usually no exact “right” or “wrong” answer.

Your physician may make certain recommendations to you. However, the final decision about whether to have this test rests with you.

What is the test?

A mammogram is an x-ray picture of the breasts.

Female Breast

Mammography is performed to screen healthy women for signs of breast cancer. It is also used to evaluate a woman who has symptoms of a breast disease, such as a lump, nipple discharge, breast pain, dimpling of the skin on the breast, or retraction of the nipple. It can also help tell the difference between noncancerous (benign) and cancerous (malignant) disease.

Breast self-exam

Key points

  • Mammograms are important for early breast cancer detection. Between the ages of 40 and 49, women should discuss their individual preferences and review their individual risk and benefit from having mammograms every 1 - 2 years. After age 50, women should have a mammogram once a year. At age 75, women may choose to stop having mammograms.
  • Some patients complain about the pain related to compression of the breast, which is part of the exam. Compression is necessary for determining if overlying normal breast tissue is hiding an abnormality in the breast. Typically, this discomfort goes away after the compression device is removed.
  • The amount of radiation used for a mammogram is very small and should not dissuade women from having the exam.

How much time this decision tool will take

  • 5 - 10 minutes

What this tool will provide

  • A personalized list of factors for you to weigh
  • Questions to ask your doctor
  • Alternatives to this test
  • Recommended reading

Review Date: 9/12/2010
Reviewed By: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, University of Washington, School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

  • Smith RA, Cokkinides V, Brawley OW. Cancer screening in the United States, 2008: A review of current amercian cancer society guidelines and cancer screening issues. CA Cancer J Clin. 2008;58:161-179.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., a business unit of Ebix, Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.