The use of low-dose x-rays (radiation) to make a picture of the tissue inside the breast. The resulting picture is called a mammogram. 




Mammography is used to screen for and diagnose breast cancer by detecting tumors or other changes in breast tissue.

Specifically, mammography:

  • Aids in early detection of cancer, which improves chances of successful treatment
  • Can identify abnormalities before a lump can be felt
  • Provides the only reliable method of locating abnormal growths in the milk ducts
  • Identifies a lump's location prior to a biopsy or surgery

Screening mammograms should be done every year after the age of 40, at earlier ages if you have a family history of breast cancer (especially pre-menopausal breast cancer), or have had prior biopsies of your breast for benign disease.




Prior to Procedure - No diagnostic tests are necessary before a mammogram, although monthly self-exams and yearly breast exams by your regular practitioner are recommended.

In the time leading up to your mammogram, some considerations:

  • Schedule a mammogram when breast tissue is least tender, typically a week after your period
  • Some women report less discomfort if they avoid caffeinated beverages and take 400 IU of vitamin E per day for several weeks before the exam
  • If you have breast implants, ask if the facility uses special techniques to accommodate implants, before making an appointment; implants make it more difficult to see all the breast tissue

The day of your mammogram:

  • Do not apply deodorant, talcum power, lotion, or perfume near your breasts or under your arms
  • Some women experience less discomfort during breast compression if they take two ibuprofen tablets about an hour before the test
  • Wear a two-piece outfit; you will need to remove all of your clothing and jewelry from the waist up and change into a gown that opens in the front
  • Bring copies of previous mammograms and reports with you
  • Inform the technician if you are pregnant or have breast implants
  • Describe any breast problems to the technician before x-rays are taken

During Procedure - You stand in front of a special x-ray machine

Anesthesia - None

Description of the Procedure - You stand in front of a special x-ray machine, which has a platform to place your breast on. The technician adjusts the height of the platform, then lifts and positions one breast between a special cassette that holds the film and a clear plastic plate. The plate is brought close to the platform and compresses the breast to hold it in place and allow for a clearer image. Tell the technician if the plate compresses so tightly that it feels painful.

Two pictures of each breast are taken during a screening mammogram. 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, to allow for a side view. The x-rays are repeated on the other breast. Extra images, from different angles, may be necessary if you have breast implants.

After Procedure - You'll be asked to wait at the facility until the x-rays are developed, in case more images are needed. Often you simply go home after the screening study, and the radiologist will call you to come back in the near future for further films if this is felt to be necessary.

How Long Will It Take? 30-45 minutes

Will It Hurt? Most women do feel discomfort, and some feel pain. Tell the technician about any pain so the plastic plate can be adjusted.

Possible Complications - None

Average Hospital Stay - None

Postoperative Care - Continue monthly breast self-exams. If you are not familiar with self-exam techniques, ask your doctor to show you, or check the American Cancer Society Website.


The radiologist analyzes the images and may speak with you at the end of the appointment. Usually, though, you'll receive your results by mail within 30 days. If you do not hear from the mammography center, call and ask for the results.

If you were referred by a doctor, that doctor will receive a report describing anything out of the ordinary and suggesting a possible diagnosis. Depending on the results, additional views or tests may be ordered.


  • Changes in a breast, including a lump or thickening
  • Skin discoloration or discharge from the nipple

American College of Radiology

Radiological Society of North America

Agency for Health Care Policy and Research

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