Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center

What to Expect at a Mammogram

Your First Mammogram: What to Expect 

It’s common to feel nervous before a breast cancer screening exam. Knowing what to expect can help ease any anxieties you might have.

Women are often apprehensive about their first mammogram, but the screening test is crucial for finding breast cancer early, when it’s most treatable. “Mammography saves lives,” says Phil Evans, M.D., Chief of UT Southwestern Medical Center’s Breast Imaging Division. 

Knowing what to expect can help alleviate your anxiety. Here’s how the screening typically works.

Breast Mammogram
Many women feel nervous before a mammogram, but knowing what to expect can help ease anxieties.

1. In a changing room, you’ll undress from the waist up and wipe off any powder or deodorant – they can interfere with the mammogram reading. You’ll put on a hospital robe, tied in the front.

2. The technologist will escort you to the exam room. She will explain the process and answer any questions. Technologists understand the fear and angst women often feel during their first mammogram and will take time to make you feel more comfortable.

3. The technologist will adjust the mammography machine for your height and show you exactly where to position your feet, shoulders, and hands so your breast is positioned for the best results. 

4. Two glass paddles will compress your breast. This compression is the part of the exam that makes many women anxious because it can be uncomfortable or even painful. “Some women have more breast pain than others. The technologists are very aware of this when performing the exam. In many cases, they let the patient control how much compression they have,” Dr. Evans says. “We don’t want to hurt anyone doing this exam, but it’s important to get a clear picture.”

5. The technologist will ask you to hold your breath to prevent any movement while she obtains an image of your breast. The process takes just a few seconds, and once it’s done she’ll release the paddles to end the compression.

6. In most cases, the process will repeat for two images of each breast, each from a different angle.

7. You’ll get a letter within several days outlining your results. Most women have negative results and return for another screening mammogram in a year. Some women need to return for additional testing such as targeted mammograms or breast ultrasound. If you live more than 30 miles away, or if you request an immediate reading, a radiologist will likely review your exam while you wait. That way, you might be able to get additional testing done in the same visit, if needed. 

Looking for More on Breast Cancer Prevention?

UT Southwestern Medical Center’s Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center offers online resources to help you take steps to reduce your risk of breast cancer.