Do Mammograms Hurt?

Insights for small, large, and all breast sizes in between

Breast cancer is a leading cause of premature mortality among U.S. women, and early detection increases the chances of survival. Mammograms can catch breast cancer up to three years before signs or symptoms occur.

The pain from a mammogram varies from person to person. Breast size, implants, personal tolerance, and where you are in your menstrual cycle can impact your comfort level.

This article explains what to expect during a mammogram and how to reduce discomfort and anxiety during your next screening.

Black woman getting a mammogram

Jupiterimages / Getty Images

Mammography units have been upgraded through the years to make the exam more comfortable, shorten the length, and increase accuracy (often eliminating the need for a second clarifying mammogram).

When Would a Mammogram Cause Pain?

During a mammogram, your breast is positioned on the bottom plate of the X-ray machine by a technologist. Another plate firmly applies pressure to your breast from above. This pressure is also applied diagonally for a different image angle.

Mammogram machines have various-sized compression tools and single-use padding to help accommodate large and small breast sizes. The breast must be pressed firmly so the X-ray can detect lumps or abnormalities—the flatter the breast tissue, the more accurate the image.

If you have small breasts, you may experience a bit more discomfort. There isn't a lot of tissue to spread on the paddle. For most, the sensation feels like pressure in the breast and is uncomfortable but not unbearable.

Other factors that may cause a painful mammogram include:

  • Personal pain tolerance
  • Positioning during the exam
  • Time of your menstrual cycle
  • The skill of the technologist

Tips for Those With a Low Pain Tolerance

A typical mammogram takes only 10 to 15 minutes. To help reduce anxiety and make the exam more comfortable, try these tips:

  • Smart scheduling: Check your menstrual cycle before booking your mammogram. Don't plan to have the exam the week before your period, as your breasts are likely to be tender. One to two weeks after your period tends to be the ideal time to get a mammogram.
  • Proactive pain relief: Consider taking over-the-counter pain medication before your exam.
  • Find a suitable facility: Choose a facility with the most updated machines and experienced technologists, especially if you have implants or are worried about your breast size.
  • Reduce caffeine: Some studies have found decreasing caffeine intake several days before a mammogram may reduce breast pain during and after the exam.

Mammograms with Breast Implants

Silicone and saline implants make it harder for a mammogram to detect breast cancer, but it's still important to get screened. Women with implants will get additional images called implant displacement views, which allow for better detection. Call ahead if you have low pain tolerance to let the technologist know you have implants.

Coping Through Anxiety

It is common to feel anxious before a mammogram, even if you've previously had one. Your thoughts may be racing about negative results or the process itself. Research shows many people avoid medical care due to feeling nervous, even when they know it's best for their health.

To feel more comfortable about your mammogram appointment, try:

  • Talking to the facility ahead of time
  • Bringing a trusted friend or family member
  • Making a plan with your healthcare provider
  • Educating yourself about mammograms and breast cancer
  • Scheduling something enjoyable to do after the exam
  • Trying a mindfulness meditation or walk to ease your nerves

How Long Mammogram Pain Lasts

Each X-ray takes less than a minute to complete, so the discomfort is typically short. Some people experience bruising or soreness a day after the exam.

During the Scan

Mammograms are usually performed standing, but there is an option for sitting mammography for those who need it.

You will remove clothes on the top half of your body and be given a robe for discreteness and comfort. A technician may place markers (stickers) on your breasts to mark nipples, moles, scars, or any areas of pain you've mentioned in your intake paperwork.

Your technician will then help you place your breast between two compression plates. If you feel extreme discomfort, let the technician know. Sometimes they will be able to readjust your breast without compromising the image quality.

After It’s Over

Once the mammogram is complete, the radiologist may want to review your images for clarity before you leave, and a full report will be sent to your healthcare provider.

The discomfort from breast compression usually improves once the test is complete. Some feel achy for a day or two after the exam. Let your healthcare provider know if you notice visible bruising or extreme soreness.

Waiting for Results

Many people are nervous while waiting for mammogram results. Take care of yourself during this time by doing things you enjoy, talking to friends and family, and using breathing exercises to help you relax.

Your mammogram results will be read by a radiologist and then reported to you and your healthcare provider. Typically, you will get the results within a few days or weeks.

Any abnormalities will be reported to you as early as possible from the mammography facility. Call your healthcare provider if you have questions or have not received the results.

Possible Next Steps

Your healthcare provider may request another mammogram or a different type of exam, such as a breast sonogram, 3-D imaging, or a biopsy. You may also be referred to a breast specialist or surgeon.

Follow-up exams do not mean you have breast cancer. Fewer than 1 in 10 people called back after an abnormal mammogram have breast cancer. Some reasons you might be called back for a second mammogram include:

  • Abnormalities: To clear up anything that looks out of the ordinary in the X-ray, you may be advised to get a second mammogram or additional testing.
  • First mammogram: If this is your first mammogram, don't be surprised if you're called back for additional imaging (even without abnormalities). This is a way to determine your normal tissue and build your breast image history.
  • Unclear X-rays: If the mammogram images aren't clear or the radiologist has difficulty reading them


Early detection with mammogram screening increases the chances of breast cancer survival. Mammograms have come a long way, with updated machines and new technology. The discomfort felt during the exam is momentary (and bearable for most). That being said, those who feel anxious about the pain and overall experience can find comfort in educating themselves, finding a facility best suited to their needs, and implementing a few home remedies.

A Word From Verywell

Mammograms are an important part of staying healthy as you age. And it's very common to feel anxious about the pain during and after the exam. If you're feeling anxious during the waiting process or for results, try to find comfort in knowing you're doing the best thing for your body and longevity. Trust your team of healthcare professionals, and ask questions.


Frequently Asked Questions

  • How common is pain during a mammogram?

    Most feel some discomfort (that feels like pressure) during the compression portion of a mammogram. It varies based on where you are in your menstrual cycle, breast positioning, and pain tolerance.

  • What makes mammograms less painful?

    You can do a few things ahead of time to make your experience more comfortable. Schedule your exam when your breasts are the least tender, typically 10 days after your period. Also, consider taking over-the-counter pain medication before your mammogram to reduce discomfort.

  • Can you request a female technician to do your mammogram?

    You can request a female technician if that makes you more comfortable. Just be sure to call ahead and let the facility know. Keep in mind all mammographers are licensed, board-certified technologists specially trained to perform mammograms and review breast images.

10 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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