Risks With Mammograms

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What Are The Risks With Mammography?

Because any x-ray procedures use radiation, including mammography, there is some small risk of radiation side effects to the body. The normal amount of radiation administered in a mammogram is exceptionally low and has been approved by national and international regulatory agencies as well as the National Department of Health and Human Services.

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Most experts in the field agree the benefits of mammography screening outweighs the risk of any harm from the radiation. A recent study estimated that ionizing radiation needed for a mammogram is lower than the dose of radiation that a passenger on an intercontinental flight may be exposed, or a skier on a mountain over 9,000 ft. By using these relatively low doses, doctors believe the ability to repeat the mammogram once a year, beginning after age 40-50 years, gives them and the patient information that far outweighs the risk.

Federal mammography guidelines require that each unit be checked by a medical physicist every year to ensure that the unit operates correctly. Specific care is taken during a mammography examinations to use the lowest radiation doses that are possible while still producing the best images for review. National and international radiology protection councils continually review and update the technique standards that are being used by radiology professionals today.

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One of the biggest advancements in reducing the amounts of radiation during a mammogram would be from the newest x-ray systems that tightly control their x-ray beams.  Significant filtration and dose control methods now minimize more stray or scatter radiation than ever before.

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Who Should Be Extra Cautious?

A few groups in particular may hold a little extra cause to make sure they are protected in the best manner possible from any potential risks with mammography. These can include...

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The majority of health experts agree that since radiation sensitivity of the breasts in women under 35 is possibly greater than in older women, most will not perform screening mammography in women under 40. However, if there is a significant risk of cancer in a particular patient such as being BRCA positive, having a very positive family history, or the identification of a palpable mass, mammography may still be an important procedure. Often, the radiologist will try to avoid mammography at this age by using ultrasound or MRI imaging.


Patients who are pregnant or may be pregnant need to notify their doctor, physician, requesting practitioner and/or radiology staff before any X-ray test is given. Radiation can pose a risk to the developing fetus. If you are pregnant and it is vital to have an abnormality checked, experts agree your torso area should be covered and protected by a lead apron.


During a mammography exam, there is an extremely small chance that the pressure placed on a breast implant to compress it will cause it to rupture or break. In a very small number of cases, the accuracy of the mammogram is lower than usual. This may be due to the content of the implant, the scar tissue surrounding the implant, or simply not being able to position the tissue in the right position for the image. Experienced technologists and radiologists know how to carefully compress the breasts to improve the view without rupturing the implant.


A mammogram may appear to detect a cancer even when a cancer is not present. These are called false-positive results. These can occur at any age but studies show it is more likely with younger women. False-positive results can lead to emotional distress and unneeded tests and treatments.  A mammogram may also detect abnormalities that will not develop into life-threatening cancer. Tests and treatment after this kind of diagnosis are not needed and can be harmful. Click here to learn more about false-positive and false-negative results.

It is very important to have your mammogram procedure done by a qualified technologist, and read by a qualified radiologist. Their level of knowledge can be the difference in how much stress and extra tests their findings provide.


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IMPORTANT: The information on this page, and throughout the entire site, is not intended to provide advice or treatment for a specific situation. Consult your physician and medical team for information and treatment plans on your specific condition(s). Images are shown for illustrative purposes. Do not attempt to draw conclusions or make diagnoses by comparing these image to other medical images, particularly your own.

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