A mammogram is a picture of your breast taken with a safe, low-dose X-ray machine.

Your technologist will ask you to stand facing the mammography machine, and then place one breast at a time on a flat surface. Another flat surface — called a compression paddle — will gently be lowered into place to compress your breast.

Compression is necessary to spread out the breast tissue and to eliminate motion, which may blur the image. The compression may be uncomfortable, but shouldn't hurt. Compression usually lasts no more than a few seconds.

During this time, an X-ray beam comes from above and penetrates your breast tissue. The X-ray image is either created on a film cassette, located below your breast, or recorded digitally and stored in a computer.

Denser breast tissue, such as cancer or calcifications, appears bright and white, whereas less dense tissue, such as fat, appears dark or gray.

After the X-ray is complete, the compression will release and the technologist will change the angle of the machine. Again, the technologist will position your breast on the flat surface, gently lower the compression paddle and take one more X-ray. This process may be repeated again.

Following the procedure, the images are processed and interpreted by a radiologist. A final report is sent to your doctor.

Schedule your mammogram at Mayo Clinic

Mayo Clinic offers convenient online scheduling for screening mammograms. Whether you're already a patient or you're new to Mayo Clinic, make your appointment today.

Schedule a screening mammogram

From Mayo Clinic to your inbox

Sign up for free and stay up to date on research advancements, health tips, current health topics, and expertise on managing health. Click here for an email preview.

To provide you with the most relevant and helpful information, and understand which information is beneficial, we may combine your email and website usage information with other information we have about you. If you are a Mayo Clinic patient, this could include protected health information. If we combine this information with your protected health information, we will treat all of that information as protected health information and will only use or disclose that information as set forth in our notice of privacy practices. You may opt-out of email communications at any time by clicking on the unsubscribe link in the e-mail.

Sept. 13, 2023