What happens during a breast cancer screening?

A breast cancer screening is an important way to identify anything abnormal and connect you with follow-up testing and treatment if you need it. Women’s Wellness Connection offers free breast cancer screenings and follow-up to eligible women. There are two types of breast cancer screenings. Nearly 100 percent of women who find breast cancer early survive at least 5 years.

Your clinical breast exam

Your health care provider may perform a clinical breast exam to look and feel for anything abnormal in your breasts and the area surrounding them. During a clinical breast exam, your healthcare provider will look for any differences in size or shape between your breasts and will also check your skin for any rashes or dimpling you may be experiencing, as well as for any lumps or bumps that feel abnormal.

What to expect during your clinical breast exam

  • Your health care provider will perform the exam in a private room.
  • You'll be provided with a cover or gown to wear, and before your exam, you'll need to remove your shirt, bra and any other clothing from your waist up.
  • If you'd feel more comfortable having another friend, family member or staff member in the room for the exam, just ask and they can join you.
  • The exam is done on one breast, then the other. The entire exam will take less than 10 minutes.
  • The health care provider will use her/his fingertips to feel for lumps in your breast tissue using three levels of pressure (light, medium and deep). These three pressures help to feel for lumps in each layer of breast tissue. Sometimes feeling the deep tissue can be slightly uncomfortable, but it's very important.
  • You may be asked to raise your arms over your head, let them hang by your sides, or press your hands against your hips. These different positions help the health care provider give you a proper examination.

Your mammogram

Talk with your provider about at what age you should get a mammogram. A mammogram is an X-ray of the breast that can find cancer that's still too small to be felt during an exam. Receiving a routine mammogram is important because it's the best tool to find breast cancer as early as possible. A mammogram can find breast cancer before you would have any physical symptoms (such as a lump or pain).

What to expect during your mammogram

  • Mammograms are done at a special imaging facility.
  • The screening will be done in a private room, usually with only you and the X-ray technician present. X-ray technicians are specially trained in how to give a mammogram and they'll give you step-by-step instructions on what to do.
  • You'll be provided with a cover or gown to wear, and before the screening, you'll need to remove your shirt, bra, and any other clothing from your waist up.
  • The X-ray technician will place each breast between two plastic plates. A quick X-ray is taken of each breast.
  • The screening will take only a few minutes and the entire procedure usually takes less than 30 minutes.

Tips to help you prepare for your mammogram

  • On the day of the screening, don't wear deodorant or antiperspirant. Do not apply powders, lotions, or perfumes. Some of these products can cause the mammogram X-ray to be read incorrectly.
  • The mammogram center or clinic will provide a cover or gown for you to wear. You won't need to remove all of your clothes for the screening, but since you will have to take off your shirt and bra, it will be more convenient for you to wear a two-piece outfit rather than a dress.
  • A mammogram can be uncomfortable, but it is very important to get them.
  • Schedule your screening when your breasts are not tender or swollen. If you haven’t started menopause, this is usually the week after your menstrual period. This will help make the exam more comfortable and will help provide accurate results.
  • Make sure to tell your healthcare provider and the X-ray technician about any symptoms, problems, or questions you may have about your breasts.
  • Bring the name and phone number of the healthcare provider who ordered the mammogram, so that a report can be sent to them following the X-ray.