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

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.

During the exam, each breast is pressed between 2 plates and an X-ray image is made. Two views of each breast are taken, one with the X-ray beam aimed from top to bottom and the other from side to side.

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 provider can also discuss other ways to help ease discomfort (or anxiety) during a mammogram. Before the exam, let your technologist know if you have any concerns or if you feel any discomfort during the exam.

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 biopsy may be needed.

It’s common to be called back for an abnormal finding on a mammogram. About 12-13 percent of women in the U.S. are called back after a mammogram for more tests [17-18]. Try not to panic or worry.

Most abnormal findings are not breast cancer. Sometimes, an abnormal finding is a benign breast condition.

Sometimes, an abnormal finding is a false positive result (when a mammogram shows something that looks like breast cancer when in fact, there’s no cancer in the breast). The chance of having a false positive result after 10 yearly mammograms is about 50-60 percent [19-21].

Recall rates

The recall rate of a mammography center is the percent of women who are called back for more 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 tool 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, ask about their expertise. 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).

Pregnancy

Screening mammography isn’t used in pregnant women because the radiation may harm the fetus.

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

  • If a lump is found during the first trimester, tests such as breast ultrasound (instead of mammography) are used to check for breast cancer.
  • If a lump is found after the first trimester, a diagnostic mammogram may be given with a shield covering the abdomen to protect the fetus.

If you have any concerns about your breasts while you’re pregnant (such as finding a lump or other change), see your health care provider.

Learn more about breast cancer during pregnancy.

Breastfeeding

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 screening.

If you have any concerns about your breasts while you’re breastfeeding (such as finding a lump or other change), see your 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 things go more smoothly.

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 screening and treatment for women with disabilities.

Komen and AAHD:

  • Launched Project Accessibility USA to change the status quo for women with disabilities and ensure access to quality breast cancer care for all.
  • Launched Project Accessibility: Removing Barriers for Women with Disabilities to improve access to care for women living with disabilities in Washington, D.C.
  • Developed a free, online Breast Health Accessibility Resource Portal with materials to help Komen grantees around the world improve their ability to care for women with disabilities.