What is a mammogram?

Mammography, a technique that uses a low dose of X-rays to image the breast, is an important tool in detecting breast disease. During the mammogram, your breast is compressed between two flat panels so that the machine can take a detailed picture of its internal structure. Our gentle, skilled technologists position each breast to get the best possible images. They keep our patients as comfortable as possible during the exam. Most people require two pictures of each breast. Each picture takes just a few seconds to acquire. These images are then interpreted by a specially trained doctor, a radiologist.

A screening mammogram is an imaging test performed once each year in women who have no obvious breast problems. If you are 40 years of age or older and do not have any breast problems, we strongly encourage you to get a mammogram once each year. A mammogram can show changes in the breast well before these changes can be felt by a woman or her doctor. Screening mammograms performed once each year starting at age 40 are linked to a dramatic increase in survival rates from breast cancer.

A mammogram performed to evaluate a breast problem such as a lump, thickening, swelling, pain, nipple discharge, or changes in the skin is a diagnostic mammogram. In this type of mammogram, we may obtain additional close-up views focusing on the abnormal area.

What is tomosynthesis?

Tomosynthesis—often called 3D mammography—uses low-dose X-rays to create 2D and 3D-like pictures of the breasts. The patient experience is the same as that of a routine digital mammogram. However, the computer creates thin image slices of the breast. The radiologist can scroll through the images like flipping through the pages of a book. This improves the ability of mammography to find small breast cancers. It also decreases the number of women who are called back for extra pictures for things that are not cancers.

How do I get ready for the test?

If you usually experience breast soreness in the days before your period, consider scheduling your mammogram outside of this premenstrual time.

  • On the day of your mammogram, do not wear any deodorant, body powder, or lotion on your breasts or underarm areas. These may appear as small areas of concern on your mammogram.
  • Be prepared to undress from the waist up and put on a gown.
  • Bring images from any mammograms, breast ultrasound exams, or breast MRIs that you have had at other hospitals or offices on a CD.  These will be loaded into our system so the radiologist can compare. This is extremely important as a change from prior images can be a sign of breast cancer.

What will happen during the test?

You will stand during this test if you are able, facing the mammography machine. A technologist will position your breast carefully between two rectangular plates. These plates compress the breast between them to flatten and spread the tissue to get the best quality exam. Once the breast is positioned correctly and compressed, the technologist will take two pictures, one from the side and one from the top of the breast. The technologist will instruct you to hold your breath and remain still for a few seconds. Motion, even breathing, can blur the image and make it necessary to repeat the picture. The pressure lasts only a few seconds while the image is taken. The technologist will repeat the procedure to image both breasts.

Are there any risks?

Mammography uses X-rays to image the breast, but the radiation dose is very small. The benefits of mammography in detecting breast cancer at an early stage outweigh the risks of radiation exposure.

After the test

After the exam, you can resume your normal activities. A radiologist will analyze the mammogram. If your mammography findings are normal, we will send you and your doctor a letter in the mail. If your mammogram shows an abnormality, we will call you and ask you to come back for additional testing.