In the United States, you should have mammography only at a facility accredited by the American College of Radiology (ACR) — quality is critical. ACR guidelines set standards for doctors who read the films, technicians, reports, mammography machines, and film-developing materials. Accreditation by the ACR means that the radiologists and technicians are specially trained and certified in mammography and that the equipment meets standards and is inspected regularly.
You’ll probably have many different options in choosing where to get a mammogram. Today, mobile units, freestanding centers, and traditional hospital settings are all options. Choose an accredited center based on the reputation of the radiologists and the quality of the equipment —the location should be secondary. Newer equipment is what counts. Contact the National Cancer Institute (1-800-4-CANCER) or the American College of Radiology (1-800-227-5463) to find a certified mammography provider. You may want to look for a facility that can do MRI, ultrasound, or other imaging procedures the same day if it's necessary to get a more precise look.
Here are questions you should ask about a mammography facility:
- How many mammograms are performed here each day? Some diagnostic centers do all kinds of x-rays and spend only a small part of their time performing and interpreting mammograms. A center that reads 15 or more mammograms a day may be able to provide a more reliable reading than one that sees fewer than 15.
- Will my mammogram be reviewed by more than one radiologist? When more than one experienced radiologist reads your film — for example, if your films are "double-read" by two — then the final report will be more reliable.
- Will the radiologist talk with me right after my films are reviewed?
- Can I take the films with me immediately after the study to show to my doctor? If not, how soon can I pick up my films?
- Will the center send a copy of the official mammogram report to me directly? To all of my doctors? (Is there a limit?)
- Will the radiologist compare my mammograms from year to year or to mammograms I have done elsewhere in previous years? Comparing images from year to year can be very helpful in picking up on abnormal changes.
- Does the center accept my health insurance? Most private health insurance plans, as well as Medicaid and Medicare, cover the cost of mammograms.
- Does the center offer low-cost mammograms? If you do not have health insurance, you can try to find a center that offers low-cost or free mammograms. Contact the National Cancer Institute (1-800-4-CANCER) or the American Cancer Society (1-800-ACS-2345) for assistance. Another option is the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program (1-888-842-6355), which provides low-cost or free cancer screenings for women without health insurance.
"When I get my own mammogram, I need to know my results right away. I selected my mammography center based on its medical reputation for quality and its commitment to immediate communication of results."
—Marisa Weiss, M.D., as patient
"I don't wait. I used to be such a good girl: ‘Yes sir, no sir,’ I'd spend a week in agony. I finally became assertive enough to get what I wanted. I had this mammogram, and my doctor says to me, ‘We'll tell you as soon as the results come in.’ ‘No, now. I'm not leaving. I don't need to wait for a written report.’ And he looks, and he tells me the results!"