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Mammogram: About This Test

What is it?

A mammogram is an X-ray of the breast that is used to screen for breast cancer. This test can find tumours that are too small for you or your doctor to feel. Cancer is most easily treated when it is found at an early stage.

Watch How do I get screened for breast cancer (video) or visit to learn about getting a mammogram in Alberta.

Watch How do I get screened for breast cancer (video) or visit to learn about getting a mammogram in Alberta.

Watch How do I get screened for breast cancer (video) or visit to learn about getting a mammogram in Alberta.

Why is this test done?

A mammogram is done to:

  • Look for breast cancer when there are no symptoms.
  • Find breast cancer when there are symptoms. Symptoms of breast cancer may include a lump or thickening in the breast, nipple discharge, or dimpling of the skin on one area of the breast.
  • Find an area of suspicious breast tissue to remove for an exam under a microscope (biopsy).

How do you prepare for the test?

If you've had a mammogram before at another clinic, have the results sent or bring them with you to your appointment.

On the day of the mammogram, don't use any deodorant. And don't use perfume, powders, or ointments near or on your breasts. The residue left on your skin by these substances may interfere with the X-rays.

How is the test done?

  • You will need to take off any jewellery that might interfere with the X-ray pictures.
  • You will need to take off your clothes above the waist.
  • You will be given a cloth or paper gown to use during the test.
  • You probably will stand during the mammogram.
  • One at a time, your breasts will be placed on a flat plate.
  • Another plate is then pressed firmly against your breast to help flatten out the breast tissue. You may be asked to lift your arm.
  • For a few seconds while the X-ray picture is being taken, you will need to hold your breath.
  • At least two pictures are taken of each breast. One is taken from the top and one from the side.

How does having a mammogram feel?

A mammogram is often uncomfortable but rarely painful. If you have sensitive or fragile skin or a skin condition, let the technologist know before you have your examination. If you have menstrual periods, the procedure is more comfortable when done within 2 weeks after your period has ended.

Having your breasts flattened is usually uncomfortable, but it helps the technologist get the best images.

How long does the test take?

  • The test will take about 10 to 15 minutes. You may be in the clinic for up to an hour.
  • You may be asked to wait a few minutes while the images are checked to make sure they don't need to be redone.

What happens after the test?

  • You will probably be able to go home right away.
  • You can go back to your usual activities right away.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to keep a list of the medicines you take. Ask your doctor when you can expect to have your test results.

Where can you learn more?

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