Guide to Mammogram

What is a Mammogram?

A mammogram is a type of medical imaging test, which involves using low-dose x-ray beams to create an image of the breast tissue. It is commonly done to detect breast cancer.

Recently, there have been advances in mammography technology including the development of digital mammography and computer-aided detection.

The procedure for performing a mammogram is the same whether it is a traditional mammogram, digital mammogram or mammography with computer-aided detection. The difference is whether the pictures taken are in the form of a digital file recorded on a computer or a photographic film.

Also, if computer-aided detection is used, the images are also processed through a special computer software program. The program alerts the radiologist to a suspicious area on the image, so it can be thoroughly reviewed. The computer software is an extra measure to prevent abnormalities from being missed. 

What to Expect During a Mammogram?

When you arrive for your procedure, the technician will likely ask you a few questions, such as whether you are wearing deodorant and if this is your first mammogram. You will be shown to the changing area and asked to remove your bra and top. If you have a two piece outfit on, you can leave your pants on.

The technician will direct you to stand in front of the mammogram machine and guide your breast into the correct position. One breast at a time is positioned in between two plastic plates attached to the machine.

Your breast will be compressed between the plates to make sure it is flattened. By flattening the breast, it provides a clear view of the tissue and decreases the amount of radiation you are exposed to.

Each breast is x-rayed in two different positions. After images of one breast are taken, the process is repeated on the other breast. You need to remain still while the pictures are taken.

After your mammogram, the tech may direct you to the changing room, where she may ask you to wait a minute to make sure the images are clear.

How Long Does a Mammogram Take?

A mammogram takes about 30 minutes. Most of that time involves getting both you and the equipment positioned for the test. Your breast is only compressed for about 30 seconds for each picture.  

Why is a Mammogram Done?

A mammogram is done to detect breast cancer as early as possible. It can detect lumps in the breast that are too small to be felt. Early detection of breast cancer often improves prognosis.

Preparations Required by the Patient

You can eat and drink normally before a mammogram. Before your appointment do not apply any powder or lotion to your chest area or wear any deodorant, since it can interfere with accurate results. When you go for your mammogram, it’s best to wear a two-piece outfit, so you only have to remove your shirt. There is usually no additional preparation needed.


Does a mammogram hurt?

During a mammogram, as your breast is squeezed between the plates, it can be uncomfortable. But the breast is only compressed for about a half a minute with each picture. Women who have yet to enter menopause may want to schedule their mammogram the week after their period when their breasts may be less sore.

At what age should women start getting mammograms?

According to the National Cancer Institution, women over the age of 40 should have a mammogram every two years. Once a woman reaches age 50, she should have a mammogram every year. Your doctor may recommend having a mammogram sooner than age 40 based on your medical history, so it’s best to discuss specifics with your doctor.

How long does it take to get the results from a mammogram? The amount of time it takes to get the results from a mammogram may vary, so it’s best to ask your doctor what to expect. Usually, the radiologist will review the results and send them to your doctor within a week or two.  

Can I have a mammogram if I have breast implants? Most women with breast implants can still undergo a mammogram. In some cases, implants can make it more difficult to get clear images of the breast tissue. It’s best to talk with your doctor before the procedure and also let the technician know you have implants.

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