What’s it like to have a mammogram?

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It's normal to have questions and concerns about having a mammogram.

Let's break it down.

 

Tips and advice

  • On the day of your appointment it’s best to wear a comfortable 2-piece outfit and a shirt that buttons up in the front, such as a blouse. You will need to remove or unbutton your shirt.
  • Some women find their breasts are less sensitive within 10 days of their last period. Consider booking your appointment at a time when your breasts are less tender.
  • If you'd like support, ask a friend to go with you to the appointment.
  • Do not use deodorant, antiperspirant, talcum powder or body lotion on the day of the appointment - these can interfere with the mammogram image.
  • If you have breast implants, it is still important to have regular mammograms, but you will need to book a diagnostic mammogram where additional time and images can ensure the entire breast is imaged properly. You’ll need a referral from a health care provider to book a diagnostic mammogram.

 

While there may be some pressure and discomfort during a mammogram, the process should not be painful.  A registered medical technologist that specializes in mammograms will place your breast on the machine.  A plastic plate will be slowly pressed down to flatten your breast and hold it in place for a few seconds while two images of each breast are taken. You will feel some pressure on your breast during the x-ray. The pressure and flattening will not harm your breast tissue. If you feel any discomfort and pain during the process please speak to the technologist and they will make adjustments so that you are more comfortable.

Mammography machines use a very low dose x-ray to produce the images required.  While some people are concerned about the exposure to x-rays, the level of radiation used does not significantly increase breast cancer risk. Guidelines ensure that mammogram machines are safe and use the lowest dose of radiation possible.  In most cases, the benefits of appropriate screening in women 40 and older outweigh the potential harm from the  x-ray. (1)

Prior to the mammogram, you will be shown to a private change area where you will remove clothing above the waist (i.e. top, bra, etc.) and put on a gown or simply remove your bra and leave your shirt on.  On the day of your appointment it’s best to wear a comfortable 2-piece outfit and a shirt that buttons up in the front, such as a blouse. A mammogram usually takes less than 10 minutes. You will be alone in the room with the technologist who will help to position your breasts for imaging. The technologists are often female, but if this is a concern, ask when you book your appointment to confirm.

All provinces and most territories have an organized screening program to help make it easy for you to be screened on a regular basis.  For most women this is every two years.  For women that are high risk or have high breast density it may be more frequent. 
 
Benefits of participating in an organized screening program include: *

High quality screening 
Accredited clinics meet national standards for radiologist and medical radiation technologist qualifications, equipment, image quality, radiation dose and quality assurance

Timely follow-up
Many organized screening programs offer reminders so you can stay on track of your screening schedule and may also send your results to you, in addition to sending them on to your health care provider

For more information on organized breast screening programs in Canada, click here.

 


References:
(1)

Yaffe MJ, Mainprize JG. Risk of radiation-induced breast cancer from mammographic screening. Radiology 2010;258(1):98-105.