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Definition  

This exam uses low-dose x-rays to make a picture of breast tissue. The picture is called a mammogram.

The United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends that women aged 50 years and older get a mammography every two years. Other organizations recommend screening every year starting at age 40. Women who are at high risk for breast cancer may need to have mammograms starting at an earlier age and more often. Most organizations in the United States and Canada recommend regular screening. There are some differences of opinion among these groups, such as when to start and how often to have the screenings. Talk to your doctor about what is best for you.

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Mammogram Showing the Growth of a Breast Mass  
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Reasons for Test  

This test is done to detect breast cancer . It may be done:

  • As a screening test—in women without symptoms
  • As a diagnostic test—to help make a diagnosis in women with symptoms like a lump or change in breast shape
  • To help determine size and location of a lump before a biopsy or surgery
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Possible Complications  

Problems from the procedure are rare, but all procedures have some risk. If you are planning to have a mammogram, your doctor will review potential problems with you.

A mammogram does use radiation. You and your doctor will weigh the harms and benefits of this test. A mammogram may not be advised if you are pregnant. Be sure to discuss these risks with your doctor before the test.

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What to Expect  

Prior to Test  

There are no special steps to prepare for this exam.

There is no proven method to decrease discomfort, but you can try:

  • Scheduling the exam when breast tissue is least tender. This is most often a week after your period.
  • Avoiding caffeinated drinks.
  • Applying skin numbing products—The FDA has issued a warning about using skin numbing products (also called topical anesthetics) for this purpose.

NOTE: Tell the technician if you:

  • Are pregnant
  • Are breastfeeding
  • Have breast implants —Ask if the facility uses special techniques to accommodate implants.

On the day of your exam:

  • Do not apply deodorant, talcum powder, lotion, or perfume near your breasts or under your arms.
  • Wear comfortable clothing so you can easily remove your shirt.
  • Remove jewelry.
  • Bring copies of previous mammograms and reports with you. If you have them done in the same facility each time, they will have results from prior years. The doctor can compare the old images to the new ones.
  • Describe any breast problems to the technician before the exam.

Description of Test  

You will stand in front of