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October 2023

Mammograms: What to Expect and How to Prepare

Having regular mammograms can lower your risk of dying from breast cancer, says the CDC. Catching breast cancer early makes it easier to treat successfully.

Research has shown that women ages 50 to 59 who get mammograms are about 14% less likely to die of breast cancer than those who don’t get screened. Women in their 60s fare even better, reducing their risk by more than 30%.

Recommendations differ

Mammography is an important tool for detecting breast cancer early on, when it’s easiest to treat. But the benefits and limitations of mammography vary based on factors like age and personal risk.

Experts have different recommendations for mammography. Currently, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends screening every 2 years for women ages 50 to 74. The American Cancer Society recommends yearly screening for women ages 45 to 54, then every year or 2 for women ages 55 and older.

Women should talk with their healthcare provider about their personal risk factors before making a decision about when to start getting mammograms or how often they should get them.

Prepping for screening

Before your mammogram, expect to undress above the waist—you will be given a gown or wrap to wear.

During the procedure, a special X-ray machine will press each breast between 2 panels before taking a picture. You will feel some pressure and maybe discomfort. However, this X-ray lasts for only a few seconds. Usually, technicians take 2 pictures of each breast.

Take these steps before your mammogram:

  • If you’re still menstruating, try not to schedule your screening for the week just before your period. Your breasts are more likely to be tender that week.

  • Don’t wear lotion, powder, perfume, or deodorant under your arms or on your breasts the day of the exam. These products can show up as white spots on the X-rays.

  • Bring a list of places and dates of mammograms, biopsies, or other breast-related procedures you’ve had before.

  • Tell the X-ray technician if you are breastfeeding or might be pregnant.



Online Medical Reviewer: Brian McDonough, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Ray Turley BSN, RN
Date Last Reviewed: 10/1/2022
© 2000-2024 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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