A mammogram is an important step in taking care of yourself and your breasts. Whether you’re a mammogram newbie or a veteran, knowing what to expect may help the process go more smoothly.
How to prepare for your mammogram
- If you have a choice, go to a facility that specializes in mammograms and does many mammograms a day.
- Try to go to the same facility every time 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 any other breast procedures you’ve had before.
- If you’ve had mammograms at another facility, try to get those records to bring with you to the new facility (or have them sent there) so the old pictures can be compared to the new ones.
- Schedule your mammogram for when your breasts aren't likely to be tender or swollen, to help reduce discomfort and get good pictures. Try to avoid the week just before your period.
- On the day of the exam, don’t apply deodorant, antiperspirant, powders, lotions, creams, or perfumes under your arms, or on or under your breasts. Some of these contain substances that can show up on the x-ray as white spots. If you’re not going home after your exam, you might want to take your deodorant or antiperspirant with you to put on after your exam. (Many centers will have cleaning and deodorant wipes to help you wipe off the deodorant and then replace it after the exam.)
- You might find it easier to wear a skirt or pants, so that you’ll only need to remove your top and bra for the mammogram.
- Discuss any recent changes or problems in your breasts with your health care provider before getting the mammogram. (If you have symptoms, you may need a diagnostic mammogram so special images can be taken of the area of concern.)
- Make sure your provider is aware of any part of your medical history that could affect your breast cancer risk—such as surgery, hormone use, breast cancer in your family, or if you’ve had breast cancer before.
Don’t be afraid of mammograms! Remember that only about 2 to 4 screening mammograms in 1,000 lead to a diagnosis of breast cancer.
What to tell your technologist
To help ensure you have a good quality mammogram, make sure your technologist knows:
- About any breast changes or problems you’re having
- If you have breast implants
- If you have trouble standing and holding still alone (without the aid of a cane or walker)
- If you’re breastfeeding or if you think you might be pregnant.
Tell the technologist right away if you start feeling lightheaded or dizzy during the mammogram.
What to expect when getting a screening mammogram
- You’ll have to undress above the waist to get a mammogram. The facility will give you a wrap to wear.
- You and the technologist will be the only ones in the room during the mammogram.
- To get a high-quality picture, your breast must be flattened or compressed. You'll stand in front of the machine, and the technologist will place your breast on the machine. The plastic upper plate is then lowered to compress your breast for about 10 to 15 seconds while the technologist takes an x-ray. You will then need to change position so your breast is compressed from side to side before the next x-ray is taken.
- If you're getting a 3D mammogram (also known as digital breast tomosynthesis, or DBT), the procedure is the same as above, but you'll notice that the machine will move in a small arc, either over the top of your breast or along the side of your breast, for each image. You might be asked to hold your breath each time it's being done.
- The whole procedure takes about 20 minutes. The actual breast compression only lasts about 10 to 15 seconds for each image.
- You might feel some discomfort when your breasts are compressed, and for some women it can be painful. Tell the technologist if it hurts so they can try to adjust the compression to your comfort.
- Two views of each breast are taken for a screening mammogram. But for some women, such as those with breast implants or larger breasts, more pictures may be needed.
What to expect when getting a diagnostic mammogram
A diagnostic mammogram is often done if a woman has breast symptoms or if something unusual is seen on a screening mammogram. The basic procedure is similar to that for a screening mammogram, but there are some differences.
- More pictures are taken during a diagnostic mammogram, with a focus on the area that looked different on the screening mammogram (or where the symptoms are).
- These special images may be “spot views” or “magnification views,” which are used to make the area of concern easier to see.
- Again, if a 3D mammogram is being done, the procedure is the same, but you might be asked to hold your breath while the machine moves in a small arc around your breast to create each image.
- During a diagnostic mammogram, the images are checked by the radiologist while you’re there so that more pictures can be taken if needed to look more closely at any area of concern. (Depending on the findings, a breast ultrasound may also be done to look at the area of concern.)
How will I get my mammogram results?
A full report of the results of your mammogram will be sent to your health care provider. If you don’t hear from your health care provider within 10 days, do not assume that your mammogram was normal. Call your provider or the facility where the mammogram was done.
The mammography facility also must provide you with an easy-to-understand summary of your mammogram results within 30 days—or “as quickly as possible” if the results suggest something abnormal is present.
If you have online access to your medical records, such as through a patient portal, your results might show up there at the same time your health care provider gets them. This means you could get the results before your health care provider contacts you. Be sure to go over the results with your provider, especially if there's anything you don't understand.
We can help you learn more about how to understand your mammogram report.