A mammogram is a special kind of X-ray designed specifically for the breast. Mammograms allow your doctor to more closely examine the breasts for changes in breast tissue. These tests can show small lumps or abnormalities that may not be detectable by means of a clinical or self-breast exam.

Mammography is the best screening tool that doctors have for finding breast cancer. Three types exist:

  • Screening mammograms are performed, typically once a year, for women who have no symptoms of breast cancer.
  • Diagnostic mammograms are performed when a woman has symptoms of breast cancer or a breast lump. This mammogram takes longer than screening mammograms because more pictures of the breast are taken.
  • Digital mammograms also use X-rays to produce detailed images of the breast. However, digital mammography is equipped with a digital receptor and a computer instead of a film cassette.

Screening Process

  1. The mammography technologist will give you all the instructions for your mammogram. The total time needed to perform the mammogram is about 15 minutes.
  2. You will stand in front of a special X-ray machine. A radiologic (mammography) technologist will place your breast between two plastic plates. The plates press your breast to make it as flat as possible.
  3. You will feel pressure on your breast for a few seconds. It may cause you some discomfort; you might feel squeezed or pinched as the technologist attempts to flatten your breast. The flatter your breast is, the better the picture will be. Most often, two pictures are taken of each breast--one from the side and one from above.

Follow these general guidelines and ask for special instructions when you schedule:

  • Make your mammogram appointment for one week after your period, if possible. Your breasts will hurt less during that time.
  • If you have breast implants, be sure to tell your mammography facility when you make your appointment.
  • Wear a shirt with shorts, pants or a skirt, allowing you to undress only from the waist up when you get your mammogram.
  • Don't wear deodorant, perfume, lotion, or powder under your arms or on your breasts on the day of your mammogram appointment. They can cause shadows on your mammogram film.