What to Expect When Getting a Mammogram

Whether you’re a novice or veteran, learn why mammograms are crucial to breast cancer prevention and how you can prepare for your exam.

Mammograms can be physically and emotionally uncomfortable. Arriving to the appointment prepared and knowing what to expect can ease the stress and discomfort of your first (or second, third, and beyond!) mammogram screening. 

Here’s what you should know to prepare for your mammogram. 

What Is a Mammogram?

A mammogram is a low-dose x-ray that identifies changes such as calcifications and masses in breast tissue. It’s lower dose and unique operation are unique to breast screening. Although it can’t verify an abnormal area is cancer, a screening mammogram identifies when further testing may be necessary. 

Because x-rays can’t examine through tissue easily, breasts must be flattened between two plates to gather an accurate picture. During a digital mammogram, the machine will take x-ray photos from 2 different angles. During a 3D mammogram, the breast is compressed once while several pictures are taken as it moves across the tissue. The images are computed into a three-dimensional view for a clearer view of the breast.

 Mammograms save lives. Often, they are the best way to detect early stages of breast cancer in women (even before a lump can be felt). Discuss your risk for breast cancer with a health provider, determine a tailored screening plan, and ensure you report any breast changes immediately.

Preparing for Your Mammogram

The following list of steps are important to take before your mammogram:

  • Find a facility that specializes in mammograms and continue to use the same facility year after year for consistency and file history.
  • Have the name, address, and phone number of the doctor who ordered the mammogram, so a report can be sent as soon as possible.
  • If you’re getting screened at a new facility, have previous mammograms, biopsies, or other breast treatments you’ve had sent to the new facility.
  • If you haven’t started menopause, try to schedule your mammogram the week after your menstrual cycle — this will reduce tenderness and achieve a better picture.
  • Avoid deodorant, lotion, powder, or other hygiene products on your entire chest area the day of your exam to avoid false white spotting on the x-ray photos.
  • Wear clothing that is comfortable and easy to remove from the waist up.

What to Expect When Getting a Mammogram

On the day of your mammogram, you’ll be asked to change into a gown and remove all clothing from the waist up. The procedure takes a total of 20-30 minutes. During the screening:

  • Your breast will be positioned properly for the screening by a technologist in a private x-ray room.
  • Your breast rests on the bottom plate, and the top plate lowers to compress your breast tissue for 3 seconds while the technologist takes a picture. Typically, two photos of each breast are taken for a total of four compressions.
  • You may experience discomfort during the compression — if you’re in pain, tell the technologist. 
  • If you have large breasts or breast augmentation, more photos may be necessary.

A summary of your mammogram results will be sent to your healthcare provider within 30 days, and in the case of abnormal results, you will be notified directly as soon as possible. The ACS estimates two to four mammograms in 1,000 lead to a breast cancer diagnosis, and with early diagnosis, breast cancer is very treatable and survivable.

Your Health Is Important to Canopy Health

Preventive health, such as receiving regular mammograms, is important to Canopy Health. Our network consists of nearly 5,000 physicians and dozens of hospitals and care centers, including skilled mammogram specialists and facilities, across eight counties in the Bay Area. 


Mammograms: What to Know Before You Go. (n.d.) American Cancer Society. Retrieved from https://www.cancer.org/cancer/breast-cancer/screening-tests-and-early-detection/mammograms/mammograms-what-to-know-before-you-go.html