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Mammograms are x-ray pictures of the breast that are effective for finding breast cancer. Mammograms can be used to check for breast cancer in women who have no signs or symptoms of the disease.

What are the benefits of getting a mammogram?

According to the National Cancer Institute, several large studies conducted around the world show that mammograms reduce the number of deaths from breast cancer for women ages 40 to 74, especially for those over age 50. In women under age 40, studies conducted to date have not shown a benefit from regular screening mammograms, or from a baseline screening mammogram (a mammogram used for comparison).

What are the potential harms of getting a mammogram?

  • Over-diagnosis and over-treatment:
    Some tumors found on mammograms may never cause symptoms or become life-threatening. When such tumors are found, having treatment would not extend life and may instead cause serious treatment-related side effects.
  • False-negative test results:
    This means that a mammogram may appear to be normal even though breast cancer is present.
  • False-positive test results:
    This means that a mammogram may appear to be abnormal even though no cancer is present.
  • Radiation exposure:
    Mammograms expose the breast to radiation. The risk of harm from this radiation exposure is slight, but repeated x-rays have the potential to cause cancer. The benefits, however, nearly always outweigh the risk. Women should talk with their health care providers about the need for each x-ray.

Learn more about mammography

Still have questions?

The nurses at Cancer AnswerLine™ have answers. Call 800-865-1125 and you'll get a personal response from one of our registered nurses, who have years of experience in caring for people with cancer.