A mammogram is an X-ray of your breasts. It can find early cancers that are too small to be noticed during a breast self-exam. Your first mammogram should be taken between ages 35 and 39. Mammograms should be done every one to two years between ages 40 to 50. After age 50 you should have one every year. Your doctor may want you to have a mammogram earlier or more often, especially if you have relatives who have had breast cancer.
A mammogram uses about the same amount of radiation as an X-ray of your teeth—a very minor risk. Because early detection is the best method of prevention, regular mammograms reduce your risk of serious illness or death.
Before You Go
- You may feel nervous, scared, or upset before having a mammogram. Let your doctor and the technician doing the mammogram know that you have these concerns.
- Do not put deodorant, powder, or lotion on your breasts or under your arms before the test. These may prevent the X-rays from turning out correctly.
- Wear a two-piece outfit, since you will have to remove clothing from the waist-up. You will wear a hospital gown during the test. Do not wear jewelry around your neck.
When You Arrive
- Tell the technician doing the mammogram if you have breast implants as extra care is needed to do the test.
- You will sit or stand next to a small X-ray table. The technician doing the test will help you place one of your breasts on the X-ray plate. Your breast will be moved until the correct position is found.
- Your breast will be gently flattened between two plastic plates for a few seconds. Flattening of your breast is important to find lumps. It may feel uncomfortable, but it should not hurt.
- You will be asked to hold your breath while the X-ray is taken. Another X-ray will be taken of the same breast after the position of the X-ray machine is changed.
- Your other breast will be x-rayed the same way.
- The mammogram will take about 10 to 15 minutes. If you have breast implants, it will take 20 to 30 minutes.
- You can return to normal activities when the test is done, and your test results should arrive in a few days. There is no need to ask the technician who is administering the test what your results are since they are not the ones who read the mammograms.
THIS ARTICLE IS NOT INTENDED AS MEDICAL ADVICE. PLEASE BE SURE TO SEEK THE ADVICE OF A LICENSED MEDICAL PROFESSIONAL BEFORE ADMINISTERING ANY MEDICAL CARE.