Where to Find Low-Cost or Free Mammograms

Options for when cost gets in the way of this important screening

Mammograms are an important part of safeguarding your health, especially if you're over 40 or have significant risk factors for breast cancer. But they can be expensive, with the average cost ranging from about $100 to $250. The Affordable Care Act requires that health plans fully cover the cost of a screening mammogram every one or two years for women over 40. Medicare and Medicaid cover them as well.

However, if you aren't insured or don't meet the criteria for coverage, that doesn't mean you have to go without. A number of options are available for free or low-cost mammograms.

A woman undergoing a mammogram.
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National Breast & Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) runs the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program, which provides low-income, uninsured, and underserved women with access to screening and diagnostic services for breast and cervical cancer. 

This program is available in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, six U.S. territories, and to 13 Native American/Alaska Native tribal organizations. You can get these clinical breast exams and mammograms through your state's Medicaid benefits. Pelvic exams and PAP smears are also available through this program.

Local Support Organizations

Several national cancer-support organizations offer financial assistance or offer access to free mammograms. If Medicare does not yet cover you, you have a low income, or you're uninsured, check with these organizations for help:

Breast Cancer Awareness Month Programs

In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, many facilities offer free or low-cost mammograms every October. Some of the large nationwide facilities that offer this include:

Check Out The Breast Cancer Community

Many options for free mammograms come and go, and it can be hard to find out when and where they will be provided. An excellent option for many people is to ask questions on social media. Many breast cancer advocates (often survivors themselves) are passionate advocates, and try to spread the work about free and low cost procedures.

There are many breast cancer groups on Facebook as well as communities associated with several of the organizations. A good place to hear the latest news (such as the availability of free mammograms) is on Twitter. You can find the breast cancer community by using the hashtag #BCSM that stands for breast cancer social media.

Does Free Mean Low-Quality?

Free mammograms and discounted mammograms must be done with the same quality and care as full-price breast screening. Just because the service is free does not mean that the quality is low.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does annual inspections at clinics that do mammography. They check up on the machines and all the staff that are associated with their mammography program.

You can easily search for FDA-approved mammography providers by zip code, state, city, or name of the facility. Once you find the facility closest to you, call and ask about low-cost and free mammograms.

Mammogram or MRI?

While magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is the "best test" for detecting breast cancer, they are very expensive and insurance usually only covers them for people who are high risk (have a 20% or more lifetime risk of developing breast cancer).

Mammograms are still considered the best screening for breast cancer in those who have an average risk of the disease.

If you have a lump or other breast cancer symptoms, it's important to see a doctor rather than get a free screening. Other tests may be needed to rule out or confirm breast cancer.

In addition, supplemental screening with breast ultrasound or fast MRI may be recommended if you have dense breasts, which can increase the risk of breast cancer while making tumors more difficult to see on mammography. If you have a facility that performs fast MRI near you, early results suggest that it is more sensitive in detecting breast cancers than the combination of mammogram and ultrasound. At the current time, mammograms miss roughly 15% of breast cancers. Unfortunately, most people will need to self pay for a fast MRI (much less than a conventional MRI and sometimes about the same as a mammogram) as many insurance companies have not yet adopted the procedure as a benefit.

A Word From Verywell

As a screening test, mammograms are designed for people who are asymptomatic (do not have any signs or symptoms of breast cancer). For those who are symptomatic, they're considered diagnostic and insurance companies aren't required to pay the full cost of them. Regardless of the reason, if you are thinking of avoiding a mammogram because of it price tag, reconsider. Breast cancer is more challenging (and much more expensive) to treat when tumors are more advanced. A cancer center social worker can help you find the resources you need.

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