An appointment for a traditional 2-D mammogram usually takes about 30 minutes. An appointment for a 3-D mammogram may take a little longer. You should have the results in one to two weeks.

A mammogram is a screening test for breast cancer. Getting a mammogram typically takes about 30 minutes from checking in to leaving the facility.

The time can vary for several reasons, including:

  • how long you’re in the waiting room
  • how long it takes you to fill out the pre-exam questionnaire
  • how long it takes you to undress before the procedure and dress again afterward
  • the time it takes the technician to position your breasts correctly
  • if an image has to be retaken because it doesn’t include the entire breast or the image wasn’t clear enough

The mammogram itself usually only takes about 10 minutes. A mammogram is an X-ray image of your breast. It can detect breast cancer in its earliest stages before you have any visible signs, such as a breast lump.

After checking in at the imaging facility, you may sit in the waiting room until you’re called for your mammogram. You may be asked to fill out a questionnaire while you wait.

Next, a technician will call you back to a room with a mammogram machine. If you haven’t already filled out a questionnaire, the technician will ask you to do so. This form has questions about the following:

The technician will also confirm that you’re not pregnant.

You’ll be asked to undress from the waist up after the technician leaves the room. You’ll put on a cotton gown. The opening should be in the front.

You’ll also need to remove necklaces and other jewelry. Deodorant and talcum powder can interfere with the images, so you’ll be asked to wipe these off if you’re wearing any.

What happens during a mammogram?

  1. Once you’re in the gown, you’ll be asked to stand next to the mammogram machine. You’ll then remove one arm from the gown.
  2. The technician will position your breast on a flat plate and then lower another plate to compress and spread out your breast tissue. This may be uncomfortable, but it’ll only last a few seconds.
  3. Once your breast is positioned between the plates, you’ll be asked to hold your breath. While you’re holding your breath, the technician will quickly take the X-ray. The plate will then lift off your breast.
  4. The technical will reposition you so that a second image of the breast can be obtained from a different angle. This sequence is then repeated for your other breast.
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The technician will leave the room to check the X-rays. An image must be retaken if it doesn’t adequately show the entire breast. When all the images are acceptable, you can get dressed and leave the facility.

There are two types of mammograms.

A screening mammogram is done when you have no problems or concerns about your breasts. It’s the type of mammogram done during your annual or biannual screening. It can detect the presence of breast cancer in the absence of any signs or symptoms.

A diagnostic mammogram looks at a specific area of your breast. It’s done for several reasons:

  • to evaluate an area of your breast that has a lump or other signs that might indicate cancer
  • to further evaluate a suspicious area seen on a screening mammogram
  • to reevaluate an area that’s been treated for cancer
  • when something such as breast implants obscure the images on a regular screening mammogram

A traditional 2-dimensional (2-D) mammogram produces two images of each breast. One image is from the side and another is from the top.

If your breast tissue isn’t spread out completely or compressed enough, it can overlap. The image of overlapping tissue can be difficult for the radiologist to evaluate, making abnormalities easier to miss. The same problem can occur if your breast tissue is dense.

A 3-dimensional (3-D) mammogram (tomosynthesis) takes multiple images of each breast, creating a 3-D image. The radiologist can scroll through the images, which makes it easier to see abnormalities even when breast tissue is dense.

Multiple images eliminate the problem of tissue overlap but increase the time it takes for a mammogram.

A 2019 study suggests that 3-D mammograms were less likely to have inaccurate results and correctly identify breast cancer. However, 3-D and 2-D mammograms had similar rates of finding breast cancer

3-D mammograms may also find more cancers than 2-D mammograms.

Although the American Society of Breast Surgeons prefers 3-D mammograms for people over 40 at average risk for breast cancer, 2-D mammograms are still used more often. Many insurance companies don’t cover the extra cost of 3-D.

Almost all mammograms are done digitally, so the images are stored electronically instead of on film. This means the radiologist can view the images on a computer as they’re being taken.

However, it usually takes a day or two for the radiologist to look at the images and then another couple of days for the radiologist’s dictation to be typed. This means your primary care doctor often has the results back 3 to 4 days after your mammogram.

Most healthcare professionals will contact you immediately if an abnormality is found so you can schedule a diagnostic mammogram or other tests to evaluate it.

If your mammogram is normal, your healthcare professional may not contact you right away. In most cases, your healthcare professional will mail you the results, which could take a few days to receive.

All in all, you should have your results within a week or two of having a mammogram, but this may vary.

Talking with your doctor or healthcare professional will give you the best idea of how and when to expect your results.

You’ll be asked to return for additional testing if an abnormality is seen on your mammogram. This is often done as soon as possible so that treatment can begin right away if needed.

A follow-up typically involves a diagnostic mammogram that takes detailed images of the abnormal area. Other tests may include:

  • evaluating the abnormal area with an ultrasound
  • reevaluating the abnormal area with an MRI scan
  • removing a small piece of tissue to look at under a microscope (biopsy)

It’s important to remember that an abnormal mammogram doesn’t mean you have cancer.

According to the American Cancer Society, fewer than 1 in 10 people with an abnormal mammogram have cancer.

A mammogram is an important screening test for breast cancer. It’s a simple imaging study that usually takes about 30 minutes. You typically have the results within a week or two.

Most of the time, an abnormality seen on a mammogram isn’t cancer. When cancer is found with a mammogram, it’s often at a very early stage, when it’s most treatable.