Mammograms and Other Breast Imaging Tests

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What to expect when you have a screening 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.
  • Although usually 2 views of each breast are usually taken for a screening mammogram, for some women, such as those with breast implants or large breasts, additional pictures may be needed.
  • All mammogram facilities are required to send you a summary of your results in simple language within 30 days. In most cases, you will be contacted within 5 working days if there’s a possible problem seen on the mammogram.
  • 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.)

Tips for having a mammogram

These tips can help you have a good quality mammogram:

  • If it’s not posted, ask to see the FDA certificate that is required of all facilities that offer mammograms. The FDA ensures that each facility meets 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: 12/08/2014
Last Revised: 12/08/2014