to make a picture of breast tissue. The picture is called a mammogram.
The United States Preventive Services Task Force recommends that women aged 50 and older get a mammography every 2 years. Women who are at high risk for breast cancer (eg, have a family history) may need to have mammograms starting at an earlier age and more often. Most organizations in the US and Canada recommend regular screening. There are differences of opinion among these groups, such as when to start and the time between screenings. Talk to your doctor about what is best for you.
There are no special steps to prepare for this exam.
There is no proven method to decrease discomfort, but you can try:
Scheduling the exam when breast tissue is least tender. This is most often a week after your period.
Avoiding caffeinated drinks.
Applying skin numbing products—There is an
that some women have died from using too much.
NOTE: Tell the technician if you:
—Ask if the facility uses special techniques to accommodate implants. Implants make it hard to see breast tissue.
On the day of your exam:
Do not apply deodorant, talcum powder, lotion, or perfume near your breasts or under your arms.
Ask your doctor if you should take
a pain medicine like
to relieve discomfort.
Wear comfortable clothing so you can easily remove your shirt.
Bring copies of previous mammograms and reports with you. If you have them done in the same facility each time, they will have results of prior years. The doctor can compare the old images to the new ones.
Describe any breast problems to the technician before the exam.
Description of Test
You will stand in front of a special x-ray machine. It has a platform to place your breast on. The technician will adjust the height of the platform. One breast will be lifted and placed between special plates that hold film. The plate is brought close to the platform and compresses the breast. This allows for a clearer image. The exam will cause some discomfort. Tell the technician if you feel any pain.
Two pictures of each breast are taken. During one, you face toward the platform and the image is taken looking down at the breast. For the second, you stand beside the machine. This allows for a side view. The x-rays are done on the other breast. Extra images may be needed if you have implants or if the doctor is looking at a specific spot more closely.
You will wait in the facility until the x-rays are developed. More images may be needed. You can go home after the exam.
How Long Will It Take?
Will It Hurt?
You may feel some discomfort and pain.
The radiologist will look at the images and may speak with you at the end of the exam. You will usually receive your results within 30 days. If you do not, call and ask for the results.
Your doctor will have a report and either send you a letter or talk to you about your condition. The next mammography is usually done in 1-2 years if everything is normal.
Mammograms can sometimes detect things that look like cancer but are not. If something is noticed on the mammogram, you may need to have other tests done, like an ultrasound or a breast biopsy. This will help determine if there is an actual problem or if everything is fine.
Also, like all screening tests, the mammogram will not detect every single abnormality.
Call Your Doctor
After the test, call your doctor if any of the following occurs:
Changes in a breast, including a lump or thickening
Mammography. Radiological Society of North America website. Available at:
. Updated August 2006.
Accessed July 22, 2008.
US Preventive Services Task Force. Guide to Clinical Preventive Services: Recommendations of the US Preventive Services Task Force. 3rd ed. Washington, DC: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality; 2006.
Agency for Healthcare Policy and Research website. Available at:
. Published 2006. Accessed July 22, 2008.
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care
provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a
substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER
IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the
advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to
starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a