Mammograms are imaging exams that take X-rays of the breasts to look for abnormal areas or changes. If you’re preparing for your first mammogram or it’s been a while since your last one, you may have questions (or need a refresher) about what to expect or how long a mammogram takes. Here’s what you need to know.
Different Types of Mammograms
There are two types of mammograms:
- Screening mammograms. These annual scans help detect breast cancer in the early stages when it’s easier to treat. They can also detect benign, or noncancerous, breast conditions. The American College of Radiology recommends a yearly screening mammogram starting at age 40 for women with an average risk of developing breast cancer.
- Diagnostic mammograms. The procedure for diagnostic and screening mammograms is the same. However, more images are taken during a diagnostic exam. This type is often ordered if you have breast cancer symptoms or a screening mammogram detects an abnormal area.
If possible, have all of your mammograms done through the same healthcare facility. Doing so makes it easier for the radiologist to compare images over time and better monitor any changes in your breast tissue.
Preparing for Your Appointment
No matter which type of mammogram you’re getting, you can do several things to help yourself and your healthcare team prepare for a mammogram before you arrive for your appointment.
Scheduling a Mammogram
It’s common for breasts to be tender or swollen during your period and the week before it starts, making a mammogram more uncomfortable. If possible, schedule your appointment outside this window to improve your comfort during the exam.
If you’ve had a previous screening or diagnostic mammogram done with a different healthcare provider, get a copy of your medical records, including imaging reports, to bring to your first appointment. You can also ask your previous provider to send the records for you.
You can get a mammogram with breast implants. However, additional images are needed during the exam.
The Day of Your Appointment
On the day of your appointment, wear a top with pants or a skirt instead of a dress or another one-piece outfit.
Skip putting deodorant, lotion, perfume, or powder on or under your breasts or under your arms. These products can appear to be abnormalities on an X-ray, increasing your chance of getting called back for another mammogram or other testing.
If you have questions for the technologist, write them down beforehand and bring them to your appointment.
How Long Does a Mammogram Take?
When you arrive for your mammogram, you will check in and complete any needed paperwork. After the technologist calls your name, you’ll go to a private area for the imaging. They will explain the steps, ask you about your personal and family medical history, and allow you to ask questions.
Let the technologist know if you:
- Are breastfeeding, pregnant, or may be pregnant
- Had recent breast changes or symptoms
- Have difficulty standing or standing without support
During the mammogram you will be asked to take off your bra and shirt and put on a wrap to cover your upper body. The technologist will help you position your breast on a horizontal plastic plate on the X-ray machine. Another plastic plate will lower to compress your breast for about 10 to 15 seconds, helping to get a clear image. For a 3D mammogram, you may need to hold your breath as the machine moves in an arc around your breast.
Some women have discomfort or pain during breast compression, but it doesn’t last long. If you have pain, let the technologist know. They may be able to make adjustments.
Most screening mammogram appointments take 30 minutes or less from the time you sign in until you’re walking out the door. The mammogram itself takes about 15 minutes.
For a diagnostic mammogram, the process is the same, but the technologist will take more images from multiple angles, adding a few more minutes to the overall scan time.
Some appointments allow you to stay and receive your mammogram results. Before you leave, the radiologist, a physician specializing in imaging, will review your mammogram images. You will receive a letter with your results, and the final report will be sent to your physician. When you leave without your results, the report will be available in the patient portal within 48-72 hours.
Schedule a screening mammogram with a Windsong breast imaging expert.