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A Guide to Mammograms: What to Expect During Your Breast Cancer Screening

Reviewed by 
Anwar A. Jebran, MD

Article at a glance

In this article, we’ll walk you through what to expect during a mammogram, drawing insights from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Mammograms are a crucial tool in breast cancer screening, prevention and early detection, particularly for women above the age of 40. A mammogram is an X‑ray of the breast that can help identify breast cancer in its early stages, often before physical symptoms develop. These screenings are vital for women after the age of 40, as the risk of breast cancer increases with age. Regular mammograms can significantly improve the chances of detecting cancer in its early stages when it’s most treatable.

Before the Mammogram

  1. Scheduling: Contact your healthcare provider to schedule a mammogram. They will consider your medical history and recommend when to begin regular screenings.

  2. Preparation: On the day of your mammogram, it’s best to avoid using deodorant, lotion, or powder on your chest or underarms. These substances can interfere with the imaging process.

  3. Attire: Wear a two-piece outfit, as you’ll need to undress from the waist up for the procedure.

During the Mammogram

  1. Checking In: Arrive at the facility a little early to complete any necessary paperwork. Inform the technologist if you have breast implants or if you’re experiencing any breast-related symptoms like tenderness, redness, lumps, and secretions to name a few.

  2. Breast Compression: During the mammogram, the technologist will position your breast on a specialized platform. Another platform will gradually lower to compress the breast tissue. While this compression might feel uncomfortable, it’s essential for obtaining clear images.

  3. Multiple Views: To ensure accuracy, images will be taken from different angles. For each view, you’ll be asked to hold your breath briefly while the X‑ray is taken.

  4. Discomfort: It’s natural to feel some pressure or discomfort during breast compression, but remember that the procedure is brief and the benefits outweigh any momentary discomfort.

  5. Repeat Process: The process will be repeated for the other breast.

After the Mammogram:

  1. You should receive your results within a few weeks. 

  2. If there are any concerns or if further evaluation is needed, your healthcare provider will guide you through the next steps in management.

  3. If the results are normal, you will work with your provider to develop a plan for future mammograms to continue the screening process. 

Remember, regular mammograms are an invaluable tool in detecting breast cancer early, when it’s most treatable. By understanding the process and what to expect during a mammogram, you can approach the screening with confidence and a sense of empowerment. Remember, this procedure plays a vital role in maintaining your well-being and enjoying a healthier, more fulfilling life.

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