Skip to main content

What to Expect


Breast screening temporarily suspended due to COVID-19 situation in BC. Learn more here.


Mammograms are x-rays of the breasts that are done in complete privacy by a specially-trained female technologist.

What to expect during your first mammogram


Video available in EnglishCantoneseMandarin & Punjabi

Why do the breasts get compressed during a mammogram?


 Video available in EnglishCantoneseMandarin & Punjabi

Why do women need regular mammograms?


Video available in EnglishCantoneseMandarin & Punjabi

What happens during a screening mammogram?

1 Step One

A female technologist will ask to measure your height and weight before your mammogram which will be documented on your confidential history form as well as other questions pertaining to your breast health.


2Step Two

The technologist will then proceed to the mammogram examination where she will place your breast on a special x-ray machine. A plastic plate will be pressed slowly to compress your breast and hold it in place for a few seconds.


3 Step Three

You will feel some pressure on your breast for a few seconds during the x-ray. Compression is necessary to spread the breast tissue and eliminate motion, which may blur the picture. This may be uncomfortable and usually lasts no more than 10 seconds. Let the technologist know if you experience pain as she will work with you to make your appointment more comfortable.


4Step Four

Four pictures are taken, two of each breast. The technologist will check the pictures to make sure they are good quality for the radiologist to read. If needed, the technologist may take additional pictures. 

How to prepare for your mammogram

  • Do not use deodorant, powder, creams or lotions on the day of the appointment. These products leave a residue that can make it difficult to read your mammogram.
  • Before the exam, you will be asked to undress from the waist up. If you wish, you could wear a shirt that buttons in the front to keep one side covered at a time during the exam. Please note that in addition to uncovering one breast, you will also need to take your arm out of the shirt so the technologist can position you properly for the mammogram. This will be repeated on the other side.
  • Try to schedule an appointment when your breasts are least sensitive (e.g. within 10 days of your last period). Some women also find it helpful to avoid caffeine several days before an exam.
  • We strive for a scent-free environment, so please do not wear perfume. 

Your questions

Yes. You are welcome to bring someone for support in the waiting area and to help with the check-in process. It is best to let your technologist know if you have any concerns. She will work with you to make the test as comfortable as possible.

BC Cancer Breast Screening doesn't recommend the use of thyroid guards for screening mammograms because they can interfere with capturing a clear breast image. The guard can limit the technologist’s ability to place all of the breast tissue on the compression plate. As a result some breast tissue may be missed or more x-rays may need to be taken. 

Also, the screening mammography x-ray directs the radiation beam towards the breast tissue, so the thyroid isn't directly exposed to the radiation beam. The thyroid can be exposed to "background scatter radiation”, which is the same amount of radiation a North American would be exposed to from 30 minutes of natural background radiation. 
Body Mass Index (height and weight) has been recognized as a risk factor for breast cancer.  BC Cancer Breast Screening has begun to collect this information to assist in assessing an individual’s breast cancer risk so that it may guide screening accordingly.

How does this affect your appointment?
The technologist will ask if she may measure your height and weight before your mammogram which will be documented on your confidential history form.  

How long will this take?
It shouldn’t take more than a minute for the technologist to measure your height and weight.

Is this a required part of the screening mammogram?
We respect that agreeing to height and weight measurement is an individual decision, just as breast screening is, and it is in no way conditional to you having a screening mammogram. Please remember that all data that the screening program collects is completely confidential.

Where can you find more information about this?
BC Cancer Breast Screening collects personal information under the authority of the Health Act and section 26(c) of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA). 

More information about reducing your risk can be found here.

SOURCE: What to Expect ( )
Page printed: . Unofficial document if printed. Please refer to SOURCE for latest information.

Copyright © Provincial Health Services Authority. All Rights Reserved.

    Copyright © 2020 Provincial Health Services Authority