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

En Español (Spanish Version)


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

Parts of the Body Involved


Reasons for Procedure


  • Aids in early detection of breast cancer , which improves chances of successful treatment
  • Can identify abnormalities before a lump can be felt
  • Provides the only reliable method of locating abnormal growths in the milk ducts
  • Identifies a lump's location prior to a biopsy or surgery

Mammogram Showing the Progression of a Breast Mass

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© 2008 Nucleus Medical Art, Inc.

The US Preventive Services Task Force recommends the exam every 1-2 years for women aged 40 and older. Women who are at high risk for breast cancer (eg, family history) are more likely to benefit from having regular mammography. Most organizations in the US and Canada recommend regular screening, but there are differences among the groups, such as when to start screening and the interval between screenings. Talk to your doctor about what is best for you.

Risk Factors for Complications During the Procedure


What to Expect

Prior to Procedure

No tests are necessary before the exam. Although, monthly self-exams and yearly breast exams are recommended.

Before the exam:

  • Schedule the exam when breast tissue is least tender, typically a week after your period.
  • Avoiding caffeinated drinks may decrease discomfort during the exam. Ask your doctor if you should take vitamin E before the exam. It may also help reduce pain.
  • Inform the technician if you:
    • Are pregnant
    • Are breastfeeding
    • Have breast implants
      • Ask if the facility uses special techniques to accommodate implants. Implants make it hard to see the breast tissue.

On the day of your exam:

  • Do not apply deodorant, talcum powder, lotion, or perfume near your breasts or under your arms.
  • Ask your doctor is you should take ibuprofen to relieve discomfort.
  • Wear comfortable clothing so you can easily remove your shirt. Remove jewelry.
  • Bring copies of previous mammograms and reports with you.
  • Describe any breast problems to the technician before the exam.



Description of the Procedure

You stand in front of a special x-ray machine, which has a platform to place your breast. After adjusting the height of the platform, the technician lifts and positions one breast between a special cassette. This cassette holds the film and a clear plastic plate. The plate is brought close to the platform and compresses the breast. This allows for a clearer image. Tell the technician if you feel any pain.

Two pictures of each breast are taken. During one, you face toward the platform and the image is taken looking down at the breast. For the second, you stand beside the machine. This allows for a side view. The x-rays are done on the other breast. Extra images may be needed if you have implants.

Digital Mammography

This is a newer, more efficient technology. It takes the image and stores it on a computer, rather than transferring the image to film. It also uses less radiation. Studies have found that this exam is beneficial for women under age 50 and those who have dense breast tissue. Both types of mammography feel the same when being done. One is not less painful than the other.

After Procedure

You'll be asked to wait until the x-rays are developed. In some cases, more images are needed. Often, you can go home after the exam.

How Long Will It Take?

30-45 minutes

Will It Hurt?

You may feel some discomfort and pain. Lidocaine gel, given before the procedure, can help reduce pain.

Possible Complications


Average Hospital Stay


Postoperative Care

Do monthly breast self-exams .


The radiologist analyzes the images and may speak with you at the end of the exam. Usually, you'll receive your results by mail within 30 days. If you do not, call and ask for the results.

Your doctor may have a report and talk to you about your condition. More tests may be needed.

Call Your Doctor If Any of the Following Occur

  • Changes in a breast, including a lump or thickening
  • Skin discoloration or discharge from the nipple


American Cancer Society

National Cancer Institute



Breast Cancer Society of Canada

Radiology for Patients


About radiology. American College of Radiology website. Available at: . Accessed July 22, 2008.

Frequently asked questions. Oklahoma Breast Care Center website. Available at: . Accessed July 22, 2008.

Mammography. Radiological Society of North America website. Available at: . Updated August 2006. Accessed July 22, 2008.

US Preventive Services Task Force. Guide to Clinical Preventive Services: Recommendations of the US Preventive Services Task Force. 3rd ed. Washington, DC: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality; 2006.

Women's health. Agency for Healthcare Policy and Research website. Available at: . Published 2006. Accessed July 22, 2008.

*¹9/23/2008 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance Lambertz CK, Johnson CJ, Montgomery PG, Maxwell JR. Premedication to reduce discomfort during screening mammography. Radiology. 2008;248:765-772. Epub 2008 Jul 22.

Last reviewed November 2007 by Mohei Abouzied, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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