- What is a mammogram?
- What’s the difference between a screening mammogram and a diagnostic mammogram?
- How is a mammogram done?
- What to expect when you have a mammogram
- Where can I get help with mammogram costs?
- How is mammography regulated?
- What does the doctor look for on a mammogram?
- What if a breast biopsy is needed?
- Understanding your mammogram report – BI-RADS categories
- What are the limitations of mammograms?
- Mammograms in special circumstances
- Newer techniques for improving mammograms
- When are other breast imaging tests used?
- Experimental and other breast imaging methods
- To learn more
What to expect when you have a mammogram
- You will have to undress above the waist to have a mammogram. The facility will give you a wrap to wear.
- A technologist will position your breasts for the mammogram. You and the technologist are the only ones in the room during the mammogram.
- To get a high-quality picture, the breast must be somewhat flattened. The technologist places the breast on the machine’s plate. The plastic upper plate is lowered to compress the breast for a few seconds while the technologist takes a picture.
- The whole procedure takes about 20 minutes. The actual breast compression only lasts a few seconds.
- You may feel some discomfort when your breasts are compressed, and for some women it can be painful.
- All mammogram facilities are required to send your results to you within 30 days. In most cases, you will be contacted within 5 working days if there’s a possible problem seen on the mammogram.
- Being called back for more testing does not mean that you have cancer. In fact, less than 10% of women called back for more tests are found to have breast cancer. Being called back happens fairly often. It usually just means more pictures or an ultrasound needs to be done to look at a suspicious area more carefully.
- Only 2 to 4 screening mammograms of every 1,000 lead to a diagnosis of breast cancer.
If you are a woman age 40 or over, you should get a mammogram every year. (See our document called Breast Cancer: Early Detection for the American Cancer Society breast cancer screening recommendations.) You can schedule the next one while you are there at the facility. Or you can ask for a reminder to schedule it as the date gets closer. Some women schedule the next year’s mammogram and ask to be reminded of the appointment a few weeks ahead of time.
Tips for having a mammogram
These tips can help you have a good quality mammogram:
- If it’s not posted in a place you can see it near the receptionist’s desk, ask to see the FDA certificate that’s issued to all facilities that offer mammograms. The FDA requires all facilities to meet high standards of safety and quality in order to provide mammogram services.
- If you have a choice, use a facility that specializes in mammograms and does many mammograms a day.
- If you are satisfied that the facility is of high quality, continue to go there on a regular basis so that your mammograms can easily be compared from year to year.
- If you’re going to a facility for the first time, bring a list of the places and dates of mammograms, biopsies, or other breast treatments you’ve had before.
- If you’ve had mammograms at another facility, try to get those mammograms to bring with you to the new facility (or have them sent there) so that they can be compared to the new ones.
- On the day of the exam, don’t wear deodorant or antiperspirant. Some of these contain substances that can show up on the x-ray as white spots. If you’re not returning home, you may want to take your deodorant with you to put on after your exam.
- You may find it easier to wear a skirt or pants, so that you’ll only need to remove your top and bra for the mammogram.
- Schedule your mammogram when your breasts are not tender or swollen to help reduce discomfort and get a good picture. If you are still menstruating, try to avoid the week just before your period.
- Always describe any breast changes or problems you are having to the technologist doing the mammogram. Also describe any medical history that could affect your breast cancer risk—such as surgery, hormone use, or breast cancer in your family (or if you’ve had breast cancer before). Discuss any new findings or problems in your breasts with your doctor or nurse before having the mammogram.
- Before having any type of imaging test, tell the radiologic technologist if you are breast-feeding or if you think you might be pregnant.
- If you do not hear from your doctor within 10 days, do not assume that your mammogram was normal; call your doctor or the facility.
Last Medical Review: 12/10/2013
Last Revised: 11/05/2014