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A mammogram is a low-dose x-ray of the breast tissue. It is a test to look for early breast cancers|.
You will need to take off your clothes from the top part of your body, including your bra. The radiographer will then position you so that each breast is placed in turn on the x-ray machine and gently but firmly compressed (squashed) with a flat, clear, plastic plate.
The breast tissue needs to be compressed to keep the breast still and to get the clearest picture with the lowest amount of radiation possible. Most women find this uncomfortable and for some women it is painful for a short time while the breast is being compressed. You will need to stay still for less than a minute while the x-ray is taken. Usually two mammograms are taken of each breast from different angles.
When mammograms have been taken of both breasts you can get dressed again and are free to go.
The standard way of taking mammograms uses x-ray images of the breast. A newer technique called digital mammography uses computer imaging. Research has shown that digital mammograms are better at finding cancers in younger women and women who have denser breast tissue.
As part of the Government’s Cancer Reform Strategy, digital mammograms are gradually being introduced into the breast screening programme in the UK. Most breast screening units in the UK should have access to at least one digital mammography computer.
Content last reviewed: 1 January 2011
Next planned review: 2013
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