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How is a mammogram performed?

Usually, a mammogram is done on an outpatient basis, although it can be part of inpatient care. There is no specific preparation for the examination. However, a woman should not wear deodorant, powders, or lotions under the arms on the day of the examination, as these substances can interfere with the images. If you have breast implants, be sure to tell your mammography facility that you have them when you make your appointment. You will need an X-ray technologist who is trained in working with patients with implants. This is important because breast implants can hide some breast tissue, which could make it difficult for the radiologist to see breast cancer when looking at your mammogram images.

Although each facility may have specific protocols in place, generally, a mammogram procedure follows this process:

  1. The patient should describe any symptoms or problems to the technologist prior to the examination (if any).
  2. The patient will undress from the waist up and will be given a gown to wear.
  3. The patient will be positioned at the mammography unit, seated, standing, or lying down.
  4. The breast will be positioned between two plates of the mammography unit, and pressure applied to compress the tissue. (This may produce temporary discomfort.) Breast compression is necessary in order to obtain the best image with the least amount of radiation possible.
  5. The patient will be asked to hold her breath for a few seconds while the X-rays are taken.
  6. The technologist will step behind a protective window and the image will be taken.
  7. Each breast may be X-rayed at least two times from above and from the side positions to produce the films for the doctor to review.
  8. After the X-rays are made, the patient will be asked to wait for a short time until the radiologist can review the films to determine if additional X-rays are necessary.
  9. The examination process takes approximately 20 to 30 minutes.

Locations for Mammography