Mammography is specialized medical imaging that uses a low-dose X-ray system to see inside the breasts. A mammography exam, called a mammogram, aids in the early detection and diagnosis of breast diseases in women.
In conventional film and digital mammography, a stationery X-ray tube captures an image from the side and from above the compressed breast. In breast tomosynthesis, the X-ray tube moves in an arc over the breast, capturing multiple images from different angles.
Learn how to prepare for a mammogram and what to expect before, during and after the procedure.
Before the Procedure
Before scheduling a mammogram, the American Cancer Society recommends that you discuss any new findings or problems in your breasts with your doctor. In addition, inform your doctor of any prior surgeries, hormone use, and family or personal history of breast cancer.
Do not schedule your mammogram for the week before your menstrual period if your breasts are usually tender during this time. The best time for a mammogram is one week following your period. Always inform your doctor or X-ray technologist if there is any possibility that you are pregnant.
Do not wear deodorant, talcum powder or lotion under your arms or on your breasts on the day of the exam. These can appear on the mammogram as calcium spots. Also, describe any breast symptoms or problems to the technologist performing the exam.
During the Procedure
During mammography, a specially qualified radiologic technologist will position your breast in the mammography unit. Your breast will be placed on a special platform and gradually compressed with a clear plastic paddle.
You must hold very still and may be asked to keep from breathing for a few seconds while the picture is taken to reduce the possibility of a blurred image. You will also be asked to change positions between images. The technologist will walk behind a wall or into the next room to activate the x-ray machine.
You will feel pressure on your breast as it is squeezed by the compression paddle. Some women with sensitive breasts may experience discomfort. If discomfort is significant, less compression will be used. Always remember, compression allows for better quality mammograms.
The routine views are a top-to-bottom view and an angled side view. The process will be repeated for the other breast. Compression is still necessary for tomosynthesis imaging in order to minimize motion, which degrades the images. During breast tomosynthesis, two-dimensional images are also obtained or created from the synthesized 3-D images.
The exam should take about 30 minutes.
After the Procedure
When the exam is complete, you will be asked to wait until the technologist verifies that the images are of high enough quality for accurate interpretation. Once this has been confirmed, you can return to your normal activities.
After the images have been interpreted, your radiologist or referring physician will discuss the findings with you. Depending on the results of the mammogram, additional tests or procedures may be scheduled to gather further diagnostic information.