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Find out what a mammogram is, how you have it to diagnose breast cancer and other breast conditions, and what happens afterwards.

A mammogram is an x-ray of your breasts. X-rays use high energy rays to take pictures of the inside of your body.

You might have a mammogram if you have:

  • a lump in your breast
  • skin changes on your breast
  • blood or discharge from your nipple
  • any other breast changes
Diagram showing a woman having a mammogram

You might have this test alongside other tests, such as a breast examination and breast ultrasound in a one stop clinic. This is called a triple assessment. You might also have a breast biopsy or other tests.

Preparing for a mammogram

There are no special preparations for a mammogram. You can eat and drink normally beforehand.

What happens

You have a mammogram as an outpatient. This might be in the x-ray department or a specialist breast clinic. 

You take off your clothes from the waist upwards, and might put on a hospital gown.

You stand close to the x-ray machine. The radiographer positions your breast between 2 flat metal plates on the machine. The plates press your breast firmly between them for a few moments. You will feel a little pressure and this might be uncomfortable. You have one x-ray taken from the top of the breast and one from the side.

After your mammogram

You can get dressed straight after the mammogram. You might have some tenderness in your breast for up to a few hours.

Two people called film readers, image readers or radiologists look at the mammogram pictures. They check for any abnormal areas.

If everything looks normal you might not need any further tests.

If an abnormal area shows on the scan you might need to have more tests. These might include a breast ultrasound scan, a breast MRI scan, or taking a sample of cells from the breast (a biopsy).

In a one-stop clinic you have these tests during the same visit.

Getting your results

You might get the results on the same day. If you had a breast biopsy you might need to wait for a week or so. 

Waiting for test results can be a very worrying time. You might have contact details for a specialist nurse and you can contact them for information if you need to. It can help to talk to a close friend or relative about how you feel.

You can also contact the Cancer Research UK nurses on freephone 0808 800 4040 for information and support. The lines are open from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.

Contact the staff at the clinic if you haven’t heard anything after a couple of weeks.

Possible risks

Mammogram is a very safe procedure but your nurse will tell you who to contact if you have any problems after your test. Your doctors will make sure the benefits of having a mammogram outweigh these possible risks.

Many people worry about the possible effects of radiation. The amount you receive from an x-ray is extremely small and doesn't make you feel unwell. The risk of the radiation causing any problems in the future is very small. The benefit of finding out what is wrong outweighs any risk there may be from radiation.

Information and help

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