Mammograms are not all created equal, nor are the centers that provide them. As in all matters pertaining to our health and well-being, quality matters. Following are some important factors to keep in mind when choosing where to have your mammogram, ultrasound or other breast screening or diagnostic procedure.
In the United States, you should start by considering only facilities accredited by the American College of Radiology (ACR) because ACR guidelines set standards for the doctors who read the films, the technicians, reports, mammography machines, and film-developing materials. ACR accreditation means that the radiologists and technicians are specially trained and certified, and that the equipment meets standards and is regularly inspected.
When choosing where to have a mammogram, your options may vary from mobile units, to freestanding imaging centers, to traditional hospital breast care centers. Choose an accredited center based on the reputation of the radiologists and the quality of the equipment. The newer the equipment, the better. Look for accredited centers that provide the full range of screening and diagnostic services (mammograms, ultrasounds, biopsies, and MRIs). This will streamline the process and ensure continuity of care by enabling you to have all follow-up screening and diagnostic services with the same radiologists. By returning to the same high-quality center each year, the radiologists will be able to compare your results from year-to-year and monitor for changes in your breast tissue.
Find out which ACR centers accept your insurance and then narrow your options down by asking the following questions:
What type of mammography machines does the center use and how old are they?
How many mammograms does the center perform each day? A center reading many mammograms a day may provide a more reliable reading than one that sees fewer than 15 per day.
Will your mammogram be reviewed by more than one radiologist? When more than one experienced radiologist reads your films, the final report will be more reliable.
Does the center offer free or low-cost mammograms? If you do not have health insurance and are in need of low-cost or free breast health screening or diagnostic services, look for an ACR accredited center that can provide the full continuum of care, from screening (mammograms), to diagnostics (such as ultrasounds and biopsies), to surgery and treatment (if necessary). While free mammograms from stand-alone facilities can be helpful, hospital breast care centers will often offer a greater range of assistance programs for low-income, uninsured patients. This is important should you need follow-up tests. Hospital breast care centers are more likely to offer patients access to the full continuum of care should there be a breast cancer diagnosis.
Michelle Y. Stears
Sarasota Memorial Breast Health Grant Support