It’s time to schedule a mammogram? Not just yet. To be sure your test is done right and gets you the most accurate results possible, ask these questions first…
Is the facility accredited? Be sure to choose a mammogram center accredited by the American College of Radiology (ACR). This accreditation ensures that the technicians who perform your exam and the doctors who read your X-rays have the proper training and credentials. It also means the facility has mammography equipment that meets important quality standards, follows all safety procedures, and is inspected regularly. You can check facilities you’re considering (or were referred to by your doctor) on the ACR website as well as through the FDA’s Mammography Facilities database—centers must also be certified by the FDA.
How many mammograms does the facility typically do in a day? Whether the facility offers a variety of imaging procedures or specializes in breast health, make sure it does at least 15 mammograms a day on average. This volume of mammograms means that the radiologists who read your X-rays have not only the credentials but also the experience in breast health you need. According to Consumer Reports, the more experienced a center and its radiologists, the more accurately images are read and the less chance that a patient will be called back for unnecessary testing.
How can you access my previous mammograms? When reading mammograms, radiologists should be looking for changes from year to year, which can be a reason to stay with the same center. However, if you want to switch to a more experienced center, if your insurance no longer covers your previous center or if you have moved, you want the new facility to get your previous results in advance of your next mammogram. So, ask whether the new facility will request them for you or you must arrange for this yourself. If the files can’t be sent electronically, you’ll likely need to request that they be put on a CD and then sent. Allow ample time for this to happen before your next screening, and make sure your files have arrived.
Do you offer 3D mammography? Newer mammography equipment creates a three-dimensional image of your breasts. Studies have found that 3D is superior to 2D and that 3D leads to fewer false-positives, meaning fewer callbacks for more tests about questionable findings. Using 3D imaging is especially important for women with dense breasts. Dense breasts have more glandular and fibrous tissue than they do fat, and it’s harder for radiologists to spot abnormalities in dense breast tissue because both dense breast tissue and tumors appear white on film. This isn’t to say that 2D mammography is no longer valuable, but if you have a choice, 3D is the way to go.
Are you able to do a breast ultrasound or MRI on the same day? If you have breast cancer risk factors as well as dense breasts, your doctor may suggest one of these additional tests as the way to properly screen you for breast cancer. So that you won’t have to wait longer than necessary for the results, make sure your doctor writes out an order for both tests…and try to have a facility schedule them for one visit. The ACR offers accreditation of centers performing breast ultrasound and breast MRI as well as mammograms. Look for a facility accredited in all these areas.
How many radiologists will read my films? You actually want two radiologists experienced in breast health to read your exam. Radiologists call this procedure giving it a second read or a double read. With two trained professionals reviewing the images, you can be more confident in the final report.
How soon will I get the results? Many women are fearful about getting a mammogram because they’re afraid of being diagnosed with breast cancer, and every minute that passes between getting the test and hearing the results can be stressful. A center that reads your films while you wait or that will call with your results quickly—later that same day or by the next morning—can help put you at ease. A facility that gets you your results immediately may also be able to perform any necessary follow-up tests on the spot.
Do you accept my health insurance? Most private insurance plans and Medicare and Medicaid cover the cost of a screening mammogram. But you want to make sure that the center you choose is in your network in case you need any follow-up diagnostic tests…these are not typically included under preventive care. Going to an in-network facility means that your copays and coinsurance for additional tests will be lower than those at an out-of-network facility.