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UW Health SMPH
American Family Children's Hospital

Patient Instructions for Breast Imaging Exams

Mammography is one of the most important procedures in examining a woman for breast cancer. This examination passes low dose X–rays through the breast tissue and produces a picture of the tissue inside the breast. 


Mammography detects most, but not all breast cancers. Having a physical examination of your breast by a health care provider is also an important part of breast screening. Some cancers are found by physical examination alone and may not be detected on mammogram. We recommend a physical examination be coordinated with you mammogram done annually.

Two Types of Mammography Examinations
There are two different types of mammography examinations. Your health care provider may order a "screening mammogram" or a "diagnostic mammogram." These two examinations have different appointment times, reasons of exam, examination technique, and interpretation processes 
Screening Mammogram
If you have no new clinical breast problems or no recent mammogram abnormality, a screening mammogram may be ordered. The screening examination will take about one half–hour. Your films will be carefully reviewed by the radiologists at a later time, usually the following day. 
Please note that a routine annual screening mammogram must not occur prior to a year (12 months) following your last mammogram.

During a screening examination, the technologist generally will take at least two films of each breast. She will position your breast between two pieces of plastic to compress the tissue. This achieves the maximum amount of detail to be visualized on each film. The compression may produce varying degrees of discomfort. 

Diagnostic Mammogram
A diagnostic mammogram may be ordered by your health care if you have a:
  • New clinical problem
  • Recent incomplete or indeterminate mammogram
  • Recent personal history of breast cancer undergoing current treatment

The diagnostic mammogram takes a variable amount of time and is usually a much longer appointment time than a screening mammogram. The radiologist on duty may direct your evaluation at the time of examination, although he/she will dictate your final report at a later time.


Please note that a physician's referral is required for a diagnostic mammography appointment. 

Results From Your Mammogram
A letter explaining your results will be sent to you to the address that you provided.
Please do not be alarmed if we ask you to return for additional pictures. This is quite common and usually proves to be normal.
If you have not heard from us within 2 weeks, please call your physician's office for results. 
A report of your results will be sent to your health care provider. If mammograms from another facility are needed for comparison, your report may be delayed.
To expedite interprtation of your mammogram, we suggest that you bring your prior films to your appointment.
We have implemented a “Double Reading” program in which two experienced radiologists review your films separately. This process requires additional time. If you elect expedite your final interpretation or sign out your films before the process is completed, you will forfeit the benefits of an extra reading. 
Full Field Digital Mammography
Full field Digital Mammography (FFDM) is available for either your screening or diagnostic mammogram at West Clinic or UW Hospital and Clinics. It has been proven that FFDM is equivalent to traditional Film Screen Mammography (FSM). There may be technological advantages for all women especially those with dense breasts or are premenopausal.
Preparing For Your Mammogram 
When you are scheduled for a mammogram, the following can help you prepare for the examination:
  • Refrain from using underarm deodorant, lotions or creams on the day of the examination. These may interfere with the interpretation of the images. If you happen to forget not to use these items, please inform the technologist so that she may give you supplies to wash with. 
  • Wear comfortable clothing for your examination. You will be asked to remove your blouse and bra and to wear a gown provided. Your personal items may be placed in a locker in our dressing area. 
  • If you are aware that you experience breast tenderness, we suggest you abstain from caffeine containing products during the week prior to your examination. Caffeine does not affect the results of the tests, but abstaining may lessen the discomfort experienced during compression. We also suggest that you schedule your appointment during the first two weeks after your menstrual cycle. 
  • The technologist will ask that you remain still while each X–ray picture is taken. Movement will blur the picture. Do not be concerned if additional pictures are taken. Occasionally this is necessary for technical reasons or to view a particular area better. 

You may check out your films from our file room after one week. This time is needed to ensure that your films are properly reviewed and your examination is completed including finalizing your report. Please allot for this time if you have another appointment that requires a copy of your films or your final report.