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                           Mammography Today
       Questions and Answers for Patients on Being Informed Consumers
                      Food and Drug Administration

                   Federal Consumer Information Center

What is a mammogram?

A mammogram (also called a mammography exam) is a safe, low-dose x-ray
of the breast. A high-quality mammogram is the most effective tool for
detecting breast cancer early. Early detection of breast cancer may
allow more treatment options. It could even mean saving your breast
or your life.

When should I have a mammogram?

Talk with your doctor about this. Your risk for breast cancer increases
as you get older, so you need to be on a regular schedule for
mammograms. Generally, if you are in your 40s or older, having a
mammogram every 1 to 2 years could save your life! However, when and
how often you have a mammogram is something you need to decide with
your doctor, who will consider your breast cancer risk in recommending
a mammogram schedule for you to follow.

How can I be sure I'm getting a high-quality mammogram?

The Mammography Quality Standards Act (MQSA) is a federal law that
makes sure every mammography facility meets quality standards.
Mammography facilities include breast clinics, radiology departments
in hospitals, mobile vans, private radiology practices, and other
doctors' offices. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ensures that
facilities all around the country meet MQSA standards. These standards
apply to the following people at your facility:

- the technologist who takes your mammogram,
- the radiologist who studies your mammogram, and
- the medical physicist who tests the mammography equipment.

To work in mammography, all of these professionals must have special
training and education. In addition, because technology is always
improving, these people must keep up with any changes through ongoing
education. MQSA also makes sure that mammography equipment is tested
regularly and maintained to operate properly.

Look for the MQSA certificate displayed at your facility and check
its expiration date. This certificate means that your facility has to
undergo regular inspections and should provide you with a high-quality
mammogram. If the expiration date has passed, tell facility staff.

It's good to know that FDA protects me by regularly inspecting my
facility. What happens if problems are found during an inspection?

Most facilities practice high-quality mammography and pass their
inspections. If a problem were found during an inspection, the MQSA
inspector would tell the facility what needs to be corrected so that
it can pass inspection and continue to provide high-quality mammograms.
Minor problems found at a facility often can be easily fixed.

Rarely, an inspector finds a more serious problem that could affect the
quality of mammograms and their results. If this happened with your
facility, for example, your facility or FDA would contact you and your
doctor and suggest what you should do. You may need to have your
mammogram repeated.

Look for the MQSA certificate at your mammography facility.
The certificate means that the facility has to undergo regular
inspections to meet quality standards.

This information gives me confidence about the quality of my facility.
How else does MQSA help me?

The law also aims to improve communication between you and your
facility. As a result of MQSA, your facility must:

- ask if you have breast implants before performing your mammogram,
- send you your mammogram results,
- transfer your original mammograms upon your request to you or to a
facility or doctor you specify, and
- address your concerns.

From the time you make a mammogram appointment to the time you get
the results, you should understand what is happening and be sure
that your questions are answered. The more you know, the better you
can care for your own breast health.

What if I have breast implants?

When you call your facility to schedule a mammogram, tell them that you
have breast implants. If your facility doesn't accept patients with
implants, ask if they can give you the name of a facility that does.
When you arrive for the exam, remind facility staff you  have implants
and will need a technologist trained in x-raying patients with implants.
This is important because breast implants can hide some breast tissue,
which could make it difficult for the radiologist to see breast cancer
when looking at your mammograms. If the technologist taking your
mammograms knows you have implants before performing the exam, she will
make sure that as much breast tissue as possible can be seen on your

How will I get the results of my mammogram?

Your facility will give you the results of your mammogram in
easy-to-understand language. It will give you these results at the time
of your appointment or may choose to mail the results. If mailed,
the letter containing your results must be sent within 30 days of
your mammogram. The facility also will send your doctor a medical
report of your mammogram results.

I thought "no news was good news." Wouldn't my doctor let me know if
there was a problem?

Although the results of most mammograms are normal, don't assume that no
news means that there are no problems. It is very important that you
get the results of your mammogram. If you don't receive them within 30
days of your mammogram, call your mammography facility or doctor and
ask for them.

If I don't have a doctor, who receives the medical version of my report?

In this case, your facility will send you both reports of your mammogram
results--the version in easy-to-understand language and the medical
version. If your facility thinks you should see a doctor, its staff
will let you know and can recommend one.

If I change facilities or need a second opinion, do I need my

Good question! The answer is yes, but be sure they are originals--not
copies. By law, you are entitled to your original mammograms. A doctor
needs to compare past mammograms with current ones to see if there have
been any changes, and original mammograms are needed for this
comparison. Ask your facility for your original mammograms and for a
copy of the medical version of your report. You will probably be asked
to fill out a form to release your medical records. You can ask the
facility to send your records to another medical facility, to your
doctor, or to you. Your facility may charge a fee for this service. 
If they do, the fee must not be more than the cost of providing this 
service to you.

I am on a regular schedule for mammograms and I do monthly breast
self-exams. What if I notice a change in my breasts?

Although mammograms are very effective, they don't find all breast
problems. If you find something unusual in either breast during your
monthly breast self-exam (such as a lump, a thickening, or discharge
from a nipple), call your doctor immediately. When checked, many breast
changes are not cancerous--but only your doctor can know for sure.

What if I have a concern about my exam or facility?

If you have a concern about your exam or facility that you think could
affect your health, follow these steps:

- Talk with a facility staff person. If he or she can't help you, you
will be told who on their staff can address your concerns.
- If the facility cannot resolve your concerns, ask for the name,
address, fax number, e-mail address, or phone number of the contact
person at your facility's accreditation body to contact about your
complaint. Be sure to provide them with your name, address, and
phone number. (Note: The American College of Radiology requests that all
complaints to them be in writing; State accrediting bodies will also
accept phone calls.) The name of the accreditation body is on the MQSA
certificate displayed at your facility.
- If your facility's accreditation body doesn't resolve your concerns,
write to FDA at:

Center for Devices and Radiological Health
Office of Health and Industry Programs
Division of Mammography Quality and
Radiation Programs (HFZ-240)
Rockville, Maryland 20850
Or call 1-800-838-7715.

Where can I find out more about mammography?

- Talk with your radiologist, technologist, or doctor.
- Call the National Cancer Institute's (NCI's) Cancer Information
Service at 1-800-422-6237 for answers to questions, or to locate
an FDA-certified mammography facility near you. Their specially
trained staff can provide up-to-date information in English and Spanish.
People with TTY equipment should call 1-800-332-8615.
- Check out FDA's mammography website at
- Visit FDA's Office of Women's Health website at

Be informed! Get involved! Be sure that you... 

Look for the MQSA certificate at your facility and check its expiration 
date. Tell facility staff if you have breast implants when scheduling
your appointment. Make sure you receive your mammogram results.
Tell your facility about your concerns. When needed, obtain
original mammograms.