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What is a Mammogram?

A mammogram is an x-ray of your breast tissue using a very low dose of radiation (pdf). Mammograms can be used as a screening or diagnostic test. Mammograms screen women who have no signs or symptoms of breast cancer. A diagnostic mammogram is for someone who is experiencing problems with their breasts. The information on this website refers to mammograms used for screening purposes.

A mammogram can show most breast cancer 2 to 3 years before any signs or symptoms may appear. It is the best way to detect breast cancer early. During a mammogram a female technologist takes two x-rays of each breast. To get the best possible image of the breast tissue, it is carefully compressed between two plastic plates. This aids in diagnosis and in lowering the radiation dose needed to make the x-ray image. The compression (pdf) is not harmful to the breast and each x-ray only takes a few seconds.

Most women find having a mammogram does not hurt. Some find it uncomfortable and a few find it painful. If you have tender breasts, taking a mild pain reliever about an hour before your appointment may help. Talk with the technologist at your mammogram appointment about your concerns as she wants to make the test as comfortable as possible for you.

Most women will not have any problems after their visit. Some women may experience redness or bruising which usually disappears in a few days. Tearing can sometimes occur because the skin under the breast along the bra line can be very thin. Keeping the area clean and dry will help healing and may prevent future problems. Talk with your health care provider if you have rashes, infections, or problems with your breasts that don't go away.


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