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What is mammography (mammogram)?

Mammography is an X-ray examination of the breast. It is used to detect and diagnose breast disease in women who either have breast problems such as a lump, pain, or nipple discharge, as well as for women who have no breast complaints. The procedure allows detection of breast cancers, benign tumors, and cysts before they can be detected by palpation (touch).

Before the procedure:

  • No fasting or sedation is required before the procedure.
  • If you are pregnant or suspect that you may be pregnant, you should notify your doctor.
  • Notify your technologist if you have breast implants or if you are breastfeeding.
  • Dress in clothes that permit access to the area to be tested or that are easily removed.
  • Comparison with old mammograms is very important. If you are having a mammogram performed at a new facility, you may be asked to retrieve your previous mammograms from the previous facility.
  • Avoid using deodorant, perfume, powders, or ointment on the breast or underarm area on the day of the mammogram. It may interfere with the reading.
  • Breasts are often tender the week before and during menstruation, so try to schedule your mammogram for one to two weeks after your period starts.

During the procedure

Generally, a mammogram follows this process:

  1. You will be asked to remove clothing from your waist up, and will be given a gown to wear.
  2. The technologist will ask you if you have noticed any lumps or other changes in either breast. If so, an adhesive marker will be placed on the spot(s) prior to the procedure.
  3. You will stand in front of a mammography machine and one breast will be placed on the X-ray plate. In order to position the breast for optimal imaging, the technologist may examine and/or palpate the breast before placing it on the plate. An adhesive marker may be applied to any moles, scars, or other spots that might interfere with the breast image.
  4. A separate flat plate, often made of plastic, will be brought down on top of the breast to compress it gently against the X-ray plate. Compression of the breast is required in order to minimize the amount of radiation used and to ensure optimal visualization of the breast tissue. You may feel some discomfort during this time.
  5. You will be asked to hold your breath while the image is being taken.
  6. The radiologic technologist will step behind a protective window while the image is taken.
  7. At least two pictures of each breast at different angles will be taken of each breast, requiring the breasts to be repositioned between pictures.
  8. After the X-rays have been taken, you will be asked to wait while the films are examined by the technologist to ensure that the films are. If there is a question about any of the films, you may be asked to have additional films taken.
  9. The examination process takes approximately 20 to 30 minutes.

The manipulation and compression of the breast being examined may cause some discomfort or pain, particularly in the case of a recent injury or invasive procedure, such as surgery. The radiologic technologist will use all possible comfort measures and complete the procedure as quickly as possible to minimize any discomfort or pain.

After the procedure

Generally, there is no special type of care following a mammogram.

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