5 questions to ask before a mammogram

Have this conversation for safety's sake - the sooner, the better

Regular screening mammograms are one of the best ways to detect breast cancer early, when it’s easier to treat. They’re also a covered preventive care benefit in most health plans, so you may not have to share any of the costs.1 If you haven’t yet had a talk with your doctor about your options, these 5 questions are a great way to get the conversation started.

1. Do I need a mammogram?

Mammograms are x-rays of the breast. They may help find tumors when they’re still too small to feel. Mammograms can also find abnormal cells in breast ducts that could become cancer later.

Every woman’s needs and risks are different. So talk with your doctor about how often to get a mammogram — and when to start.

2. Are mammograms safe?

Most screening tests have some risks. Mammograms are no exception. The x-rays do expose you to radiation, for instance. And the test results sometimes can appear abnormal even when no cancer is present. Such false-positives may lead to more tests and unnecessary worry for you.

Most experts believe the benefits far outweigh the risks. Your doctor can talk with you about the pros and cons.

3. Will it be painful?

During a mammogram, your breast is placed between two plates that are pressed together. So yes, you might feel some painful pressure during the test. But remember: It’s a short-term discomfort for a good reason.

Talk with your doctor if you’re concerned about the pain. Some facilities may have machines with pads to help cushion the breast.

4. Do I have dense breasts?

Your breasts might be considered dense if they have more breast and connective tissue than fatty tissue. Why does that matter? Tumors may sometimes be harder to spot in women with dense breasts.

5. Is a 3-D mammogram right for me?

Some doctors may consider 3-D mammography for women with dense breasts.1 During this type of mammogram, a low-dose X-ray machine sweeps over the breast, taking multiple images from different angles. A computer combines all these images to create a 3-D picture of the breast.

Talk with your doctor about what’s best for you, including how often to be screened.

For women with breast implants

You can still have mammograms — although you may not need them if you’ve had a mastectomy. So be sure to discuss that with your doctor.

When you schedule your appointment, tell the facility you have implants. And ask for a technician who’s experienced with mammography involving implants.

Also be prepared for your test to take more time than a typical mammogram. Implants may make it more difficult to get a clear picture of your entire breast. So you may need to have twice as many pictures taken.

What to do next

How about some spring screenings? Talk with your doctor about the preventive care you may need. This checklist can be a great place to start.


  1. Effective April 1, 2017, UnitedHealthcare began providing coverage for three-dimensional (3-D) mammography for breast cancer screening and diagnostic testing. Check your benefit plan to see what services may be covered.