Mammography FAQ

What is mammography?

Providence mammography departments use state-of-the-art LORAD M-IV mammography units. In addition, our radiologists use advanced R2 ImageChecker technology to give an immediate, computerized, second reading of each mammogram.

Who should have a mammogram?
The American Cancer Society recommends the following guidelines for early detection of breast cancer:

For women ages 20 to 39:

  • Clinical breast exams by a physician or nurse practitioner every three years
  • Breast self-exam every month
  • Mammograms for women who have an elevated risk of breast cancer, as advised by their physicians

Age 40 & Over:

  • Clinical breast exam by a physician or nurse practitioner every year
  • Breast self-exam every month
  • A mammogram every year

How should I prepare for a mammogram?
Do not schedule your mammogram the week before your period if your breasts are usually tender at this time. The best time is one week after your period. Always inform your doctor or radiology technologist if there is any possibility that you are pregnant.

Do not wear deodorant, talcum powder or lotion under your arms on the day of your mammogram. These can appear on X-rays as calcium spots.

If you've had previous mammograms, make them available to the radiologist. It is helpful for the radiologist to compare previous images with the new ones.

What happens during a mammogram?
Before the examination, you will be given a hospital gown or a loose-fitting drape that opens in the front. You will be asked to remove all jewelry and clothing above the waist. A radiation technologist will position you at the mammography unit so as to image each breast. The breast will be placed on a firm, flat X-ray surface and compressed with firm, gentle pressure from the mammography device. The compression causes discomfort for some women, but most find it to be painless. 

Breast compression is necessary to:

  • Spread out the breast thickness so that all of the tissue can be visualized
  • Spread out the tissue so that small abnormalities won’t be obscured
  • Allow the use of a lower X-ray dose
  • Hold the breast still, eliminating blurring of the image
  • Create a sharper picture

While the breast is compressed, the technologist will take an X-ray. She will help you change positions slightly between images. Generally mammograms include a top-to-bottom view and a side view of the breast tissue. The process is repeated for the other breast. The examination process should take about 30 minutes.

What happens after the exam?
When the exam is complete, you will be asked to wait until the technologist evaluates the images to determine if more images are needed. If an image is unclear or if a finding seems suspicious, the radiologist may recommend further diagnostic studies.