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(Breast X-ray; Mammogram; X-ray of Breast Tissue)
by Cynthia M. Johnson, MA
This exam uses low-dose x-rays to make a picture of breast tissue. The picture is called a mammogram.
Most medical organizations in the United States and Canada advise regular screening. There are some differences among these groups about when to start and how often to have the screenings. The United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) advises that women aged 50-74 years old get the test every 2 years. Other organizations advise screening every year starting at age 40. Women who are at high risk for breast cancer may need to have the tests starting at an earlier age and more often. Talk to your doctor about what is best for you.
Reasons for Test TOP
This test is done to find breast cancer. It may be done:
Possible Complications TOP
Problems from the test are rare, but all procedures have some risk. If you are planning to have this test, your doctor will go over potential problems with you.
The test does use radiation. You and your doctor will weigh the harms and benefits of this test. The test may not be advised if you are pregnant. Be sure to talk about these risks with your doctor before the test.
What to Expect TOP
Prior to Test
There are no special steps to prepare.
There is no proven method to reduce discomfort, but you can try:
Note : Tell the technician if you:
On the day of your exam:
Description of Test
You will stand in front of a special x-ray machine. It has a platform to place your breast on. The technician will adjust the height of the platform. One breast will be lifted and placed between special plates that hold film. The plate is brought close to the platform and compresses the breast. This allows for a clearer image. The exam will cause some discomfort. Tell the technician if you feel any pain.
At least 2 pictures of each breast are taken. For one picture, you face toward the platform and the image is taken looking down at the breast. For a second picture, you stand beside the machine for a side view. Extra images may be needed if you have implants. Your doctor may also need more images if this test is being used to help make a diagnosis.
After Test TOP
You will wait in the facility until the x-rays are developed. More images may be needed. You can go home after the exam.
How Long Will It Take? TOP
Will It Hurt? TOP
You may feel some discomfort and pain.
The radiologist will look at the images and may speak with you at the end of the exam. You will usually get your results within 7 days. If you do not, call and ask for the results.
Your doctor will have a report and either send you a letter or talk to you about your condition. The next test is usually done in 1-2 years if all is normal.
The test can sometimes find things that look like cancer, but are not. If something is noticed on the test, you may need to have other tests done, like an ultrasound or a breast biopsy. This will help find out if there is a real problem or if all is fine.
Also, like all screening tests, the test will not detect every single abnormality.
Call Your Doctor TOP
After the test, call your doctor if you have:
American Cancer Society
American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
Breast Cancer Society of Canada
Radiology for Patients
Mammograms. National Cancer Institute website. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Accessed July 26, 2013.
Mammography (breast imaging). Radiological Society of North America Radiology Info website. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Accessed May 7, 2013. Accessed July 26, 2013.
Mammography for breast cancer screening. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.... Updated July 2, 2013. Accessed July 26, 2013.
8/12/2011 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamed...: The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Practice bulletin no.122: Breast cancer screening. Obstet Gynecol. 2011;118(2 Pt 1):372-382. Reaffirmed 2014.
Last reviewed May 2015 by Andrea Chisholm; Brian Randall, MD
Last Updated: 5/22/2018
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