The Who, What, Where, When and Sometimes, Why.

Getting a Mammogram

Mammography uses X-rays to create images of the breast. These images are called mammograms.

Learn more about mammograms.

Learn about findings on a mammogram.

Where to get a mammogram

Mammograms can be done in:

  • Radiology and imaging centers
  • Mammography clinics
  • Hospital radiology departments
  • Mobile vans
  • Some doctors’ offices

What to expect

Preparing for a mammogram

Before the mammogram, you will undress from the waist up. So, it’s a good idea to wear a shirt you can remove easily.

Avoid using deodorants, antiperspirants, perfumes, powders or lotions on your breasts and underarm areas on the day of the exam. Ingredients in these products can show up on a mammogram and make it harder to read.

The mammogram procedure

You’ll either have 2-dimensional (2D) digital mammography or digital breast tomosynthesis (DBT, also called “tomo” or 3-dimensional (3D) mammography). Getting a mammogram is similar with either method. Both methods are considered standard of care.

During the exam, each breast is pressed between 2 plates and an X-ray image is made.

If you’re getting 2D digital mammography, 2 views of each breast are taken, one with the X-ray beam aimed from top to bottom and one from side to side.

A DBT mammography machine provides both a 2D mammogram and a 3D image (based on multiple 2D images). All the images are taken on the same machine, so you stay in one place while all the images are taken.

A DBT mammogram takes a few seconds longer than a 2D mammogram because more images are taken. If you’ve had a 2D mammogram in the past, you may not notice a difference.

DBT may give a slightly higher radiation dose than standard 2D mammography [8-10]. This higher dose is within FDA guidelines though [8,10].

Source for image: National Cancer Institute, Rhoda Baer (photographer)

Discomfort and anxiety

The pressure may be uncomfortable, but it only lasts a few seconds. If you have concerns, talk with your health care provider about taking acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) before the exam.

Your health care provider can also discuss other ways to help ease discomfort or anxiety during a mammogram. Let your technologist know if you have any concerns before the exam or if you feel any discomfort during the exam.

How long does a mammogram take?

Getting a screening mammogram takes about 15 minutes.

When to expect results

Some centers give you the results of your mammogram at the time of your screening. With others, it may take up to 2 weeks to get your results.

If you don’t get your results within 2 weeks, contact your health care provider or the mammography center.

Don’t assume the results were normal because you didn’t get a report. Follow-up to get your results.

If you’re called back for more tests

If a finding is abnormal or the mammogram wasn’t clear enough for the results to be read, you will be called back for more tests.

Follow-up may include a diagnostic mammogram, breast ultrasound or breast MRI. In some cases, a breast biopsy may be needed.

It’s common to be called back for an abnormal finding on a mammogram. About 10-13 percent of women in the U.S. are called back for more tests after a mammogram [5-6,20-21].

It’s normal to be worried or concerned about an abnormal finding. In most cases, these findings are not breast cancer.

Sometimes, a mammogram shows something that looks like breast cancer when in fact, there’s no cancer in the breast. This is called a false positive result. The chance of having a false positive result after 10 yearly mammograms is about 50-60 percent [22-26].

Recall rates

The recall rate of a mammography center is the percent of women who are called back for follow-up tests. Some centers may share their recall rate with you. This information may help you understand your chances of being called back.

Learn about follow-up after an abnormal mammogram.

Mammography is a safe and effective screening test for women who have breast implants. However, implants make it harder to read a mammogram.

If you can, choose an imaging center with technologists and radiologists experienced in mammography screening for women with breast implants. When you call to make an appointment, let them know you have implants. If the imaging center doesn’t have staff experienced in imaging women with breast implants, try to find one that does.

Before your mammogram, remind the technologist you have breast implants. She must adjust the mammography machine to get the best image of the natural breast tissue.

Special positioning of the breast may also be needed. Four views of each breast will be taken (instead of the standard 2).

Women under 40 usually don’t get screening mammography unless they have an increased risk of breast cancer.

Pregnant women may get a clinical breast exam as part of their prenatal care.


Pregnant women may get screening mammography [183]. The radiation exposure to the fetus is very low and not considered harmful [183]. However, the mammograms can be hard to read due to changes in the breast tissue during pregnancy (and breastfeeding) [183]. So, for women over 40 at average risk of breast cancer, screening mammography is usually delayed until after women give birth and finish breastfeeding.

If you’re at higher risk of breast cancer and due for your routine screening mammogram, talk with your health care provider about the best timing.

If a lump is found during pregnancy

If you find a lump or other change in your breast while you’re pregnant, see your health care provider. Don’t wait.

If a lump or other change is found, a pregnant woman may have a diagnostic mammogram (with digital breast tomosynthesis) and/or a breast ultrasound to check for breast cancer.

Learn more about breast cancer during pregnancy.

Breast MRI

Breast MRI is not used during pregnancy [9]. The contrast agent, gadolinium, used in breast MRI may be harmful to a fetus [9].


While you’re breastfeeding, the tissue in your breasts may appear dense on a mammogram, making it hard to read. So, it’s best to wait until after you stop breastfeeding to get a routine screening mammogram.

Discuss the best timing to get a mammogram with your health care provider if you’re due for a screening.

If you find a lump or other change in your breast while you’re breastfeeding, see your health care provider.

Some women with physical disabilities may have trouble finding a mammography center that meets their needs. Partnering with a health care provider in your search may help.

If access to mammography for disabled women is limited in your area, let your local medical centers know. This may help improve access for you and other women.

Learn more about women with physical disabilities and breast cancer screening.  

What is Susan G. Komen® doing?

Susan G. Komen® and the American Association on Health and Disability (AAHD) worked together to address and remove barriers to breast cancer screening and treatment for women with disabilities.

Komen and AAHD launched Project Accessibility USA to improve care for women with disabilities and ensure access to high-quality breast cancer care for all.

 Updated 06/07/24