Prevention and detection

Breast cancer is the most common cancer among American women, except for skin cancer.

  • Limiting the use of alcohol, exercising regularly and maintaining a healthy body weight can help prevent breast cancer.
  • Mammograms, clinical breast exams (done during your annual physical) and periodic breast self-exams can help detect breast cancer early, when it is most curable.

Facing a breast cancer diagnosis is difficult. That is why we encourage women to ask many questions—and even get second opinions—about their breast care.


A mammogram is a low-dose digital X-ray of your breast. It uses very little radiation to get an image of your breast tissue.

A mammogram is the only screening test that has been shown to decrease the chance of dying from breast cancer.

The exam will take about 20 minutes.

Before Your Mammogram 

  • Tell your health care provider if you have breast implants.
  • Try to schedule your mammogram after your menstrual period. This is the time when your breasts are less likely to be swollen and tender. 
  • If caffeine makes your breasts sensitive or tender, do not eat or drink caffeine for a few days before the mammogram. 
  • If you have had mammograms at another health care facility other than Allina Health in the last 10 years, bring the films and their reports with you to your exam. Or, you may have them mailed to the clinic before the day of your exam. By comparing your new mammogram results to old ones,a radiologist can see if your breast tissue has changed. 
  • Do not wear deodorant, powder, perfume or lotion until after the mammogram.

During Your Mammogram 

  • A registered technologist with special training in mammography will perform the exam. 
  • You will be asked to remove your clothes from the waist up. You will be given a hospital gown or wrap to wear. 
  • You will stand or sit (if you are in a wheelchair) in front of the X-ray machine. 
  • The technologist will put one of your breasts on the platform. Your breast will be compressed between two panels for a few seconds so the X-ray can get a clear image of your breast tissue. You will feel pressure. 
  • After the exam is completed, the technologist will review the images.He or she may have to do the X-rays again if they do not get a clear image of your breast tissue.

After Your Mammogram 

  • Your breasts may feel sore. This is normal. If your breasts continue to feel sore for more than five days, call your health care provider. 
  • If your breasts feel tender, you may take acetaminophen (such as Tylenol®) or ibuprofen (such as Advil®) for one to two days.Take as directed. 
  • A radiologist will interpret (read) your mammogram. He or she will compare the new image with any past mammograms. The radiologist will send the results to your health care provider.

A Call Back

You may be asked to come back for more images. This means the radiologist may want a more detailed view of a specific area of the breast. A "call back" does not mean you have cancer or that the mammogram was not done correctly.

Breast Cancer Screening Schedule

When to start having mammograms to screen for breast cancer, and how often to have them, is a personal decision. It should be based on your preferences, your values and your risk for developing breast cancer. Allina Health recommends that you and your health care provider together determine when mammograms are right for you.

Allina Health recommends the following guidelines for women who have an average risk for breast cancer, based on American Cancer Society guidelines: 

  • Age 40 to 44: Mammograms are optional. 
  • Age 45 to 54: Have a mammogram every year. 
  • Age 55 and older: Have a mammogram every year, or transition to having one every two years. Continue to have mammograms as long as your health is good.

If you have a higher than average risk for breast cancer, your health care provider may recommend a different schedule.

Talk with your health care provider about your risk level. Together, you and your health care provider can decide what screening schedule is right for you

Whom to Call With Questions

If you have questions about the exam(other than insurance coverage), please call your health care provider.

Insurance Coverage

Check with your insurance provider to see if the mammogram(s) will be covered. Your health care provider's recommendation for services does not guarantee coverage by your insurance provider.

Source: Allina Health's Patient Education Department, Mammogram, can-ah-15311 (12/16)
First Published: 12/01/2016
Last Reviewed: 07/15/2018

For more information

Learn more about mammography, and see all the locations that offer mammograms.

Genetic counseling for breast cancer

Three generations of women deal take the right steps to good breast health and breast cancer prevention

Worried about inheriting breast cancer or passing it on? Ask your doctor if genetic counseling is appropriate for you.

Breast cancer patient information