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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 and cured when it is found at an early stage.

Why is this test done?

A mammogram is done to:

  • Look for breast cancer in women who don't have symptoms.
  • Find breast cancer in women who have 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 examination under a microscope (biopsy).

How can you prepare for the test?

  • Tell your doctor if you:
    • Are or might be pregnant.
    • Are breastfeeding.
    • Have breast implants.
    • Have previously had a breast biopsy.
  • On the day of the test, don't use any deodorant, perfume, powders, or ointments.

What happens before the test?

  • 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.

What happens during the test?

  • You usually stand during a mammogram.
  • One at a time, your breasts will be placed on a flat plate that contains the X-ray film.
  • 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.

What else should you know about the test?

  • The X-ray plate will feel cold when you place your breast on it. Having your breasts flattened and squeezed isn't comfortable. But it is necessary to flatten out the breast tissue to get the best pictures.
  • Mammograms do not prevent breast cancer or reduce a woman's risk of developing cancer.
  • Most things that are found during a mammogram are not breast cancer.

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.

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 call line 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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