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Mammography

(Breast X-ray; Mammogram; X-ray of Breast Tissue)

Definition

This exam uses low-dose x-rays to make a picture of breast tissue. The picture is called a mammogram.

Reasons for Test

This test is done to find breast cancer. It may be done:

  • As a screening test—in women without symptoms
  • As a diagnostic test—to make a diagnosis in women with symptoms like a lump or change in breast shape
  • To find out the size and site of a lump before a biopsy or surgery

Possible Complications

X-rays do not cause short-term health complications. Repeated doses of radiation may increase risk of some cancers or thyroid problems. The more x-rays you have, the more radiation there will be. Lead safety shields can cover areas of the body not being screened. They help lower the amount of radiation to the body.

Pregnant women should talk to their doctors about the risks of having a mammogram.

What to Expect

Prior to Test

The care team may meet with you to talk about:

  • Current medicines, herbs, and supplements that you take
  • Scheduling the exam a week after your period when breast tissue is least tender
  • Whether you are pregnant or breastfeeding
  • Whether you have breast implants
  • Not using deodorant, powder, lotion, or perfume near your breasts or under your arms before the test

Anesthesia

Certain people may be given a skin numbing product to ease pain. This is not common and can cause side effects.

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. 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.

How Long Will It Take?

30 to 45 minutes

Will It Hurt?

You will not feel pain after the test.

Results

The images will be studied. A report will be sent to your doctor. Your doctor will talk to you about the results and any further tests or treatment.

Call Your Doctor

Call the doctor if you have breast symptoms that worsen.

RESOURCES:

American Cancer Society
http://www.cancer.org

American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
http://www.acog.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Breast Cancer Society of Canada
http://www.bcsc.ca

RadiologyInfo for Patients
https://www.radiologyinfo.org

REFERENCES:

Mammograms. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/detection/mammograms. Accessed October 16, 2020.

Mammography for breast cancer screening. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/prevention/mammography-for-breast-cancer-screening. Accessed October 16, 2020.

Mammography (breast imaging). Radiology Info—Radiological Society of North America website. Available at: http://www.radiologyinfo.org/en/info.cfm?pg=mammo. Accessed October 16, 2020.

Last reviewed January 2021 by EBSCO Medical Review Board  Last Updated: 6/21/2021