What to Expect at Your First Mammogram

What You Should Know

Screening mammograms use low-dose radiation to look for breast cancer. When a mammogram detects breast cancer it’s often at an early stage, when it’s easier to treat.

Women should talk with their doctors about having a mammogram when they reach age 40. If you have a family history of breast cancer, your doctor may recommend that you start screening earlier.

If you’re about to have your first mammogram, you probably have questions about the process. These answers can help:

Q. Where should I have a mammogram?

A. If your doctor doesn’t recommend a facility, choose one that does many mammograms each day. You should also ask if the facility is certified by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which ensures they use safe practices.

Q. When should I schedule my mammogram?

A. Try to avoid having a mammogram the week before your period, since your breasts may be more tender or swollen. Scheduling for a different time in your menstrual cycle can lead to less discomfort and better pictures.

Q. How should I prepare?

A. To prepare for a mammogram, it’s a good idea to wear a shirt or top that you can take off easily. Don’t wear a necklace and don’t use deodorant or antiperspirant, since they can cause white spots on the X-ray.

Q. What happens during the mammogram?

A. The technologist gives you a gown and asks you to undress above the waist. As you stand in front of the mammogram machine, she positions your breast on a small, flat plate and then lowers the upper plate to gradually compress it. This is necessary to spread the breast tissue for an accurate image. The technologist takes two X-ray views of each breast. If you have larger breasts or breast implants, more images may be needed.

Q. Are mammograms painful?

A. Compressing your breast can be uncomfortable, but the process takes just a few seconds. Taking an over-the-counter pain reliever about an hour before your mammogram can help minimize the discomfort. If you find the process too painful, tell the technician.

Q. How long does the process take?

A. A mammogram of both breasts can take 20 to 30 minutes. Your entire appointment, including any wait times and changing your clothes, may take longer.

Q. Is the radiation from a mammogram dangerous?

A. The radiation dose from a mammogram is very low, and for most women the benefits of having regular mammograms outweigh the risks. However, let your doctor know if you think you may be pregnant—radiation can harm a developing fetus.

Q. When will I learn the results?

A. You will get a summary of the results within 30 days and usually sooner. Your health care provider will get the full report on your mammogram.

*The content on this website is for informational purposes only and is not medical advice. Please consult a physician regarding your specific medical condition, diagnosis and/or treatment.