It may come as a surprise to some to learn that mammograms are still the most effective from of screening for breast cancer. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) actively ensures that facilities that provide screenings are certified, and that all new mammography devices are declared safe before use.

The Mammography Process – Does it Hurt?

A mammogram is essentially an X-ray of the breast performed at low dosage. Mammograms are still effective because they are able to detect breast lumps at a time when they are still too small to be detected by feel lone.

It should be noted here that nipple aspirate tests and thermograms are not substitutes for mammograms. In regards the scheduling and frequency of mammograms, Helen J. Barr, M.D., director of the Division of Mammography Quality Standards in FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health (CDRH), suggests that the decision should be left in the hands of your health care provider.

When you go for a mammogram, you will be asked to remove your shirt and bra. You will them be asked to stand in from of the machine, after which a technologist will place your breast on a small platform. Your breast will then be pushed down by a clear plastic plate as the device takes the mammogram.

Many women skip this important test for fear that it will hurt, but most women will tell you that there is not much in the way of pain. There is certainly a little discomfort when pressure is applied to the breast, but it only lasts a few seconds. Barr explains that the compression is requires so that no breast tissue overlap occurs, allowing for a clearer mammogram result.

The FDA have strict regulations in place regarding the results of your mammogram. Those rules dictate that you should receive a full report within 30 days of the test, and that every effort should be made to contact you sooner of the results indicate some sort of potential health issue. If the results are not received within that timeframe, you should call your provider.

Between mammograms, you should also perform self-exams, and should talk to your health care provider if you notice issue such as lumps or nipple leakage. In fact, any type of change to the appearance of your nipple may indicate a possible health issue.

The Importance of Facility Certification

A U.S. law known as the Mammography Quality Standards Act (MQSA) requires that all facilities performing mammograms be certified by the FDA or an approved certifying agency. The goal here is to ensure that all facilities are safe and staffed by qualified technicians.

When talking about certification, Barr makes it clear that all facilities need to meet the high standards set out by the MQSA, as this will ensure that high quality mammograms are performed, allowing for the best chance at early detection.

All mammography facilities undergo an annual inspection performed by a trained evaluator. Equipment is inspected, and all staff are checked to ensure that they have the proper training and qualifications. Facilities also undergo an in-depth accreditation process every 3 years.

It is only certified facilities that can legally perform mammograms. Your health care provider should be able to refer you to such a facility, but you should also check for the certification, which should be on display, when you arrive.