Mammography (ma-MAH-gruh-fee) is a screening tool that uses X-rays to create images of the breast. These images, called mammograms (MAM-o-grams), are used to find early signs of breast cancer such as a dense mass or clusters of calcium (microcalcifications).

Overall, mammography is the most effective breast cancer screening tool used today. Mammography can also be used as a follow-up test when something abnormal is found on a screening mammogram or a clinical breast exam. When used as follow-up test (instead of screening), a mammogram may be called a “diagnostic mammogram.”


When should you get a mammogram?

Women at average risk should get a mammogram once a year starting at age 40.

Women at higher risk may need to get screened earlier and more frequently than recommended here. If you are at higher risk of breast cancer, talk with your health care provider about which screening options are right for you.

The following items will put you at higher risk for breast cancer:

  • mutation in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene (or a first-degree relative with a mutation)
  • Strong family history of breast cancer, such as mother and/or sister diagnosed at age 45 or younger
  • Personal history of breast cancer, including ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS)
  • Lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS) or atypical hyperplasia
  • Radiation treatment to the chest area during childhood or young adulthood
  • A mutation in the p53 or PTEN genes (or a first-degree relative with a mutation). These gene mutations can lead to Li-Fraumeni syndrome


Komen San Diego Breast Health Diagnostic Program

Mobile Mammography

Sometimes, the reason a woman doesn’t get a mammogram is that she doesn’t have time, or can’t get to a clinic because of transportation issues. Komen San Diego works with mobile mammography coaches to provide mammography where women work, live, pray or shop. Look on our website for a variety of free mammograms scheduled throughout each month.

You can also see where the Community Health Imaging Centers mobile mammography coach is by checking their online calendar here.

Diagnostic Mammograms and Other Diagnostic Services

When a breast screening tests reveals something abnormal, a follow-up test, known as a “diagnostic service,” is needed. Komen San Diego’s Breast Health Diagnostic Program covers the cost of diagnostic mammograms, surgical consultations, MRIs, breast biopsies, ultrasounds and ancillary services for San Diegans who don’t qualify for the state program, Every Woman Counts. Individuals can access this fund through their health care providers For more information, please visit our website.

For further help with accessing a free mammogram, please call Susan G. Komen at 1-877-GO-KOMEN or dial 2-1-1 to talk with a Health Specialist. For English, press 1-3-2. For Spanish, press 2-3-2.