Mammography is a simple procedure to undergo. It utilizes a "dedicated" x-ray machine specifically designed for x-raying the breast and is used only for that purpose (in contrast to machines used to take x-rays of the bones or other parts of the body).
The standard diagnostic service includes two views of each breast, one from above and one angled from the side. A registered technologist places the breast between two flat plastic plates which are pressed together. The idea is to flatten the breast as much as possible; spreading out the tissue makes any abnormal details easier to spot with a minimum of radiation. The technologist will take the x-ray, then repeat the procedure for the next view.
Pressure from the plates may be uncomfortable, or even somewhat painful. It helps to remember that each x-ray takes less than one minute and it could save your life. It also helps to schedule mammography just after your period, when your breasts are least likely to be tender, or at the same time each year if you no longer have your period.
Although some women are concerned about radiation exposure, risk of any harm is extremely small since the doses of radiation used for mammography are very low and considered safe. The amount of radiation needed for a mammogram will depend on several factors. For instance, in order to secure clear images, breasts that are large or dense will require higher doses..
The mammogram is first checked by the technologist before being read by a diagnostic radiologist (a doctor who specializes in interpreting x-rays). The radiologist looks for unusual shadows, masses, distortions, special patterns of tissue density, and differences between the two breasts.