A woman receives a mammogram.

Mammograms—X-ray scans used to screen for breast cancer in women with no symptoms—save lives, often by finding cancer at an earlier, more treatable stage. But as with any medical test or procedure, there are potential concerns.

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If your mammography result looks suspicious, there’s a risk that you’ll be called back for additional scans or even a biopsy that may ultimately turn out to be negative for cancer, often called a false positive result.

Research has found that you can reduce the risk of a false positive by picking the right testing facility. Where you get your mammogram matters because the more experience doctors have with your personal medical history and with interpreting mammograms, the more accurate your result will be.

About one in 10 women who receive a mammogram will be called back for a follow-up visit. Of those, only about 4 to 5 percent will be diagnosed with cancer.

Still, “it’s hard not to get worked up when they call you back,” says Brian Sprague, Ph.D., director of the Vermont Breast Cancer Surveillance System.

Certain risk factors for having a false positive result on a mammogram can’t be changed. For instance, women ages 40 to 49 are more likely to have such a result than older women, according to a 2017 study in Annals of Internal Medicine.

But if you want to reduce the risk of a false positive and the anxiety that comes along with it, carefully consider where you get your mammogram. Here’s how to choose a facility and how to reduce the risk of unnecessary follow-up tests:

Pick the Right Facility

Because of the Mammography Quality Standards Act, providers that perform mammograms must be certified by the Food and Drug Administration. You should first check to make sure any facility you’re considering is up to date with its certification.

You may also want to consider using a facility where it’s more likely your scan will be interpreted by someone who specializes in mammograms and breast imaging.

Radiologists with lots of experience interpreting mammograms tend to have better results—lower callback rates and higher cancer detection rates—than those who interpret fewer mammograms, according to Sally Herschorn, M.D., division chief of breast imaging at the University of Vermont Medical Center. And a 2011 study in the journal Radiology found that reading more mammograms was linked to a lower rate of false positives.

It’s not easy to know how many mammograms any particular radiologist has read, but Herschorn says academic institutions are a good place to find doctors who specialize in interpreting them.

You can also look for facilities that specialize in breast imaging. The American College of Radiology offers a certification for facilities that meet certain standards in a variety of breast procedures. You can find one near you by using the search tool on the ACR’s website. In the Designation drop-down menu, select “Breast Imaging Center of Excellence.”

These measures are helpful, but they aren’t fail-safe. Diana Miglioretti, Ph.D., a professor of biostatistics at the medical school at the University of California, Davis, points out that even in a facility that specializes in breast imaging, your mammogram might be read by a new radiologist.

Return to the Site of Your Last Mammo

A false positive is most likely with a woman’s first mammogram or when prior mammograms aren’t available for comparison, according to Herschorn.

“The callback rate goes down for subsequent mammograms when we have comparison studies,” she says.

When doctors can easily compare your current mammogram with your last one, they can detect changes that may indicate a problem or see that something they may have considered suspicious is simply a feature of your breast. That means you should consider returning to the same provider for your mammograms if you can.

“While we are currently in the digital age, getting access to the electronic images from outside facilities isn’t always easy or immediate,” says Joann Elmore, M.D., M.P.H., a professor of medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. “Thus going to the same facility can be helpful.”

If you can’t get back to the same provider or you want to find a new one, request a copy of any previous mammogram results ahead of time so that your new facility can compare the images.

If It’s Your First Mammogram

If you’ve never had a mammogram before or if you’re using a new facility and you can’t get copies of your older test results, Miglioretti recommends asking whether you can have your mammogram interpreted while you’re still there.

That way you can get any needed additional imaging done that day, before you leave. “This should reduce any anxiety associated with having to go back in for another appointment,” Miglioretti says.