Kim Heier, 42, of Simi Valley, Calif., half-jokingly describes the test like this: "The mammogram is 'Let's see how much flesh we can pull off of your chest and squoosh into this machineand then hold that pose!'" The pressure only lasts a few seconds per image, but you will be squeezed for multiple views of the breast (and more views if you have breast implants).
While mammograms aren't perfect at detecting cancer (they miss up to 20% of tumors), they do have the advantage of being able to see a tumor when it's small and most treatablecatching cancer before it has spread to the lymph nodes can mean a five-year survival rate of 98%. And sometimes the test can find a cancer neither you nor your doctor can feel with your fingers.
Digital mammograms produce X-ray images just as traditional film mammograms do, except that the images are recorded, stored, and viewed on a computer, and the procedure exposes you to less radiation. A 2005 study showed that they are significantly better at screening women who are under 50, pre- or perimenopausal, and/or have dense breasts. Unfortunately, digital mammography isn't widely available yet, but more and more facilities are adding the technology.