You may be anxious when your health care provider suggests you have your first mammogram. We hope this post will help you know how to prepare and what to expect, giving you peace of mind as you schedule your first mammogram. Above all else, remember that a screening mammogram is an important aspect of preventative medicine and can help detect breast cancer when it is most treatable.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends that women over age 40 have a mammogram annually. As always, there are certain circumstances or family history that might warrant earlier or additional screening. One-on-one with your health care provider is the best way to determine what you need and when.
Screening mammograms use low-dose x-ray to create an image of the breast tissue. Mammograms can help detect lumps that are often too small to be felt. Screening mammograms are for women who:
- Have never had breast cancer
- Do not have symptoms of breast problems (i.e. lumps; mild breast pain is okay)
- Have not had a recent abnormal mammogram
Preparing for your mammogram:
- If you are still having regular periods, try to schedule your mammogram for immediately after your menstrual cycle. This may help you avoid the breast tenderness that can occur at other times in your cycle.
- On the day of your mammogram, avoid perfumes, powders, deodorants, lotions or any other substance that you may put under your arm or on your breasts. They contain ingredients that can interfere with the clarity of the image.
- It’s best to wear a two-piece outfit to your mammogram appointment. Then, you will only need to remove your top at the time of the exam.
- If you have had a prior mammogram at a different office, request that the films be sent to the new facility you have selected. This will help the radiologist compare studies over time.
What to expect at your mammogram:
- Your appointment will last 20 to 30 minutes, but each breast compression only lasts 20 to 30 seconds.
- You will be given a gown and asked to remove your clothes from the waist up.
- Your will stand in front of the x-ray machine and the mammogram technologist will help place your breast on a small platform. A clear plastic plate will press down on the breast for several seconds. Many women find the pressure uncomfortable and some women may find it painful. The compression allows the breast tissue to spread and flatten. This ensures a clear view of the breast tissue and reduces the amount of radiation needed to make an image.
- The technologist will take several pictures of the breast.
- A radiologist will review the x-ray pictures to see any changes and/or abnormalities.
After your mammogram:
- You must be notified of your results within 30 days, but we will notify you much sooner.
- It’s not unusual for radiologists to need additional views to complete a screening mammogram. It’s important to remember that if you are called for further screenings, it does not necessarily mean you have cancer. Suspicious findings can come from cysts, dense tissue or an unclear image. You may need another mammogram or a breast ultrasound to evaluate.