What to Expect with a Mammogram

Before the procedure

  • Your doctor will explain the procedure to you and offer you the opportunity to ask any questions that you might have about the procedure.
  • You may be asked to sign a consent form that gives permission to do the procedure. Read the form carefully and ask questions if something is not clear.
  • No fasting or sedation is required before the procedure.
  • If you are pregnant or suspect that you may be pregnant, you should notify your doctor.
  • Notify your doctor of all medications (prescribed and over-the-counter) and herbal supplements that you are taking.
  • Notify your doctor if you have breast implants or if you are breastfeeding.
  • Dress in clothes that permit access to the area to be tested or that are easily removed.
  • Comparison with old mammograms is very important. If you are having a mammogram performed at a new facility, you may be asked to retrieve your previous mammograms from the previous facility.
  • Avoid using deodorant, perfume, powders, or ointment on the breast or underarm area on the day of the mammogram. It may interfere with the reading.
  • Patients with painful breasts may be asked to refrain from caffeinated food and beverages for five to seven days before testing.
  • Breasts are often tender the week before and during menstruation, so try to schedule your mammogram for one to two weeks after your period starts.
  • Based on your medical condition, your doctor may request other specific preparation.

During the procedure

Generally, a mammogram follows this process:

  1. You will be asked to remove any clothing, jewelry, or other objects that might interfere with the procedure.
  2. You will be asked to remove clothing from your waist up, and will be given a gown to wear.
  3. The technologist will ask you if you have noticed any lumps or other changes in either breast. If so, an adhesive marker will be placed on the spot(s) prior to the procedure.
  4. You will stand in front of a mammography machine and one breast will be placed on the X-ray plate. In order to position the breast for optimal imaging, the technologist may examine and/or palpate the breast before placing it on the plate. An adhesive marker may be applied to any moles, scars, or other spots that might interfere with the breast image.
  5. A separate flat plate, often made of plastic, will be brought down on top of the breast to compress it gently against the X-ray plate. Compression of the breast is required in order to minimize the amount of radiation used and to ensure optimal visualization of the breast tissue. You may feel some discomfort during this time.
  6. You will be asked to hold your breath while the image is being taken.
  7. The radiologic technologist will step behind a protective window while the image is taken.
  8. Two pictures at different angles will be taken of each breast, requiring the breasts to be repositioned between pictures.
  9. After the X-rays have been taken, you will be asked to wait while the films are examined by the radiologist to ensure that the films are clear and that no additional films are needed. If there is a question about any of the films, you may be asked to have additional films taken.
  10. The examination process takes approximately 20 to 30 minutes.

While the mammogram itself causes no pain, the manipulation and compression of the breast being examined may cause some discomfort or pain, particularly in the case of a recent injury or invasive procedure, such as surgery. The radiologic technologist will use all possible comfort measures and complete the procedure as quickly as possible to minimize any discomfort or pain.

After the procedure

Generally, there is no special type of care following a mammogram. Your doctor may give you additional or alternate instructions after the procedure, depending on your particular situation.

The content provided here is for informational purposes only, and was not designed to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease, or replace the professional medical advice you receive from your doctor. Please consult your health care provider with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your condition.

Risks of the procedure

You may want to ask your doctor about the amount of radiation used during the procedure and the risks related to your particular situation. It is a good idea to keep a record of your past history of radiation exposure, such as previous scans and other types of X-rays, so that you can inform your doctor. Risks associated with radiation exposure may be related to the cumulative number of X-ray examinations and/or treatments over a long period of time.

If you are pregnant or suspect that you may be pregnant, you should notify your health care provider. Radiation exposure during pregnancy may lead to birth defects. If it is necessary for you to have a mammogram, special precautions will be made to minimize the radiation exposure to the fetus.

Mammograms may be more difficult to interpret in women younger than 30 years of age, due to the increased density of their breast tissue.

Some discomfort may be felt as the breast is compressed against the X-ray plate during the procedure. This compression will not harm the breast, however.

There may be other risks depending on your specific medical condition. Be sure to discuss any concerns with your doctor prior to the procedure.

Certain factors or conditions may interfere with a mammogram. These include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Talcum powder, deodorant, creams, or lotions applied under the arms or on the breasts
  • Breast implants, as they may prevent complete visualization of the breast. If you have breast implants, be sure to tell your mammography facility that you have them when you make your appointment. You will need an X-ray technologist who is trained in working with patients with implants. This is important because breast implants can hide some breast tissue, which could make it difficult for the radiologist to see breast cancer when looking at your mammogram images.
  • Previous breast surgery
  • Hormonal breast changes