What is a mammogram?

A mammogram is an X-ray exam of the breast that is used to detect and evaluate breast changes.  There are two types of mammograms: screening and diagnostic.  A screening mammogram is an annual preventative screening for women age 40 and older who have not experienced any abnormal breast symptoms.  A diagnostic mammogram is typically for women who display symptoms that need to be investigated, such as a breast lump or nipple discharge.  They may also be performed as a follow-up to a screening mammogram to further investigate a particular area of the breast.

The American College of Radiology recommends that women age 40 and older should get a yearly screening mammogram for as long as a woman is in good health.  You may need to have a diagnostic mammogram before age 40 if you begin to develop symptoms, such as a lump, discharge or other abnormalities; or you have a family history of breast issues.

How is a Mammogram performed?

  • You will fill out a breast history form to be discussed with the technologist prior to the exam.
  • A technologist will escort you to the dressing room and ask you to undress from the waist up and put on a gown.
  • Once in the exam room, your technologist will position your breast in the mammogram machine.
  • Your breast will be briefly compressed between two plates attached to the mammogram machine. The bottom plate holds the digital detector that records the image.
  • The technologist compresses your breast to keep it from moving and to make the layer of breast tissue thinner. A thinner layer of breast tissue allows the image to be sharper.
  • The exam may be uncomfortable for a few seconds, but should not be painful. A simple repositioning may help, so make sure to notify your technologist of any discomfort.