A mammogram is an X-ray image of the breast that uses very low doses of X-rays to capture a picture of breast tissue. Digital mammography is a recently introduced technique that allows the X-ray image of the breast to be viewed and manipulated on a computer screen. There are some advantages of this technique: it further lowers radiation exposure, is somewhat more comfortable than standard mammography and it possibly improves accuracy. Since it is not yet performed everywhere, you may need to specifically request it.

How is a mammogram performed?

For a mammogram, you will be asked to undress from the waist up and given a gown to wear. Depending on the type of equipment used, you will sit or stand during the test.

One breast at a time is rested on a flat surface that contains the X-ray plate. Then, a device called a compressor, will be pressed firmly against the breast to help flatten out the tissue.

The X-ray pictures are taken from several angles. And, during the exam, you may be asked to hold your breath as each picture is taken.

Why is the test performed?

Mammography is used to:

  • Screen healthy women for signs of breast cancer
  • Evaluate symptoms of breast disease, such as a lump, nipple discharge, breast pain, dimpling of the skin, or retraction of the nipple

Annual screening mammograms are important for early detection of breast cancer. In addition to mammography, clinical breast exams and monthly breast self-examinations are important screening techniques.

Women should discuss with their physician how often to receive breast cancer screenings, including mammography and clinical breast exams. Recommendations vary depending on age and personal risk factors, such as strong family history of breast cancer.