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What Is a Mammogram?

Photo of a woman getting a mammogram

A mammogram is an X-ray picture of the breast. Doctors use a mammogram to look for early signs of breast cancer. Regular mammograms are the best tests doctors have to find breast cancer early, sometimes up to three years before it can be felt.

Are you worried about the cost? CDC offers free or low-cost mammograms. Find out if you qualify.

How is a mammogram done?

You will stand in front of a special X-ray machine. A technologist will place your breast on a clear plastic plate. Another plate will firmly press your breast from above. The plates will flatten the breast, holding it still while the X-ray is being taken. You will feel some pressure. The steps are repeated to make a side view of the breast. The other breast will be X-rayed in the same way. You will then wait while the technologist checks the four X-rays to make sure the pictures do not need to be re-done. Keep in mind that the technologist cannot tell you the results of your mammogram. Each woman’s mammogram may look a little different because all breasts are a little different.

What does having a mammogram feel like?

Having a mammogram is uncomfortable for most women. Some women find it painful. A mammogram takes only a few moments, though, and the discomfort is over soon. What you feel depends on the skill of the technologist, the size of your breasts, and how much they need to be pressed. Your breasts may be more sensitive if you are about to get or have your period. A doctor with special training, called a radiologist, will read the mammogram. He or she will look at the X-ray for early signs of breast cancer or other problems.

Tips for Getting a Mammogram

  • Try not to have your mammogram the week before you get your period or during your period. Your breasts may be tender or swollen then.
  • On the day of your mammogram, don’t wear deodorant, perfume, or powder. These products can show up as white spots on the X-ray.
  • Some women prefer to wear a top with a skirt or pants, instead of a dress. You will need to undress from your waist up for the mammogram.

When will I get the results of my mammogram?

You will usually get the results within a few weeks, although it depends on the facility. A radiologist reads your mammogram and then reports the results to you or your doctor. If there is a concern, you will hear from the mammography facility earlier. Contact your health care provider or the mammography facility if you do not receive a report of your results within 30 days.

What happens if my mammogram is normal?

Continue to get mammograms according to recommended time intervals. Mammograms work best when they can be compared with previous ones. This allows the radiologist to compare them to look for changes in your breasts.

An example of a normal mammogram. Each woman’s mammogram may look a little different because all breasts are a little different.

What happens if my mammogram is abnormal?

An abnormal mammogram does not always mean that there is cancer. But you will need to have additional mammograms, tests, or exams before the doctor can tell for sure. You may also be referred to a breast specialist or a surgeon. It does not necessarily mean you have cancer or need surgery. These doctors are experts in diagnosing breast problems. Doctors will do follow-up tests to diagnose breast cancer or to find that there is no cancer.

Where can I get a mammogram and who can I talk to if I have questions?

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