How It Is Done
A mammogram is done by a radiology
technologist or mammogram technologist. The X-ray pictures (mammograms) are
interpreted by a doctor who specializes in evaluating X-rays
You will need to remove any jewelry that might
interfere with the X-ray picture. You will need to take off your clothes above
the waist, and you will be given a cloth or paper gown to use during the test.
If you are concerned about an area of your breast, show the technologist so
that the area can be noted.
You usually stand during a mammogram. One at a time, your breasts will be placed on a flat
plate that contains the X-ray film. Another plate is then pressed firmly
against your breast to help flatten out the breast tissue. Very firm
compression is needed to obtain high-quality pictures. You may be asked to lift
your arm. For a few
seconds while the X-ray picture is being taken, you will need to hold your
breath. Usually at least two pictures are taken of each breast: one from the
top and one from the side.
You may be in the mammogram clinic for
up to an hour. The mammogram itself takes about 10 to 15 minutes. You will be
asked to wait (usually about 5 minutes) until the X-rays are developed, in case
repeat pictures need to be taken. In some clinics and hospitals, X-ray pictures
can be viewed immediately on a computer screen (digitally).
How It Feels
A mammogram is often uncomfortable but
rarely extremely painful. If you have sensitive or fragile skin, or a skin
condition, let the technician know before you have your exam. If you have
menstrual periods, the procedure is more comfortable when done within 2 weeks
after your period has ended.
The X-ray plate will feel cold when
you place your breast on it. Having your breasts flattened and squeezed is
usually uncomfortable. But it is necessary to flatten out the breast tissue to
obtain the best pictures.
A mammogram may appear to detect a cancer even when a cancer is not present (false-positive results). This can occur at any age but is more likely with younger women. False-positive results can lead to emotional distress and unneeded tests and treatments.
Also, a mammogram may detect abnormalities that will not develop into life-threatening cancer. Tests and treatment after this kind of discovery are not needed and can be harmful.
There is always a slight risk of damage to
cells or tissue from being exposed to any radiation, including the very low
levels of radiation used for this test. But the risk of damage from the X-rays
is very low compared with the potential benefits of the test.