How does mammography work?Mammography

Mammography is a breast imaging procedure used in breast cancer screening, as well as in the diagnosis of other potential abnormalities in the breasts. Low-dose x-rays are used in mammography to generate images of internal breast tissue, which can reveal density, calcifications and tumors.

Why is mammography performed?

Mammography is most often performed as a routine breast cancer screening procedure. Annual screening mammography is recommended for women beginning at age 40, according to American Cancer Society guidelines. By starting breast cancer screening early, it is possible to detect many breast cancers when they are still small and most treatable. Recommendations similar to those of the American Cancer Society have also been adopted by the American College of Radiology and American Medical Association, among others.

What to expect during mammography

Your mammography exam will be performed by a radiologic technician. A radiologist will inspect mammography images for potential problems and report results to your physicians. During your exam, you will be taken to a private room and asked to undress from the waist up. The radiologic technician will then position you before a mammography unit and place your breasts between two compression plates. The compression plates will apply slight pressure to your breasts in order to compress breast tissue and make it more uniformly visible on mammography images. A mammography exam lasts about 30 minutes.

To prepare for mammography, there are several steps you can take.

  • Because breasts can be especially tender during menstruation, schedule mammography for 1 to 2 weeks before your period begins.
  • Consider avoiding caffeinated food and beverages for 5 to 7 days before your mammography, as they can exacerbate breast pain.
  • Refrain from applying deodorant, lotion, perfume and other products prior to mammography, as they can interfere with the procedure.
  • Dress in comfortable, easy-to-remove clothing so that you can undress and dress quickly for your exam.
  • Tell your physician if you are or may be pregnant, are breastfeeding or if you have any other medical conditions.

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