Getting your first mammogram can be nerve-wracking. Even if you've had a mammogram before, you may feel anxiety leading up to your appointment.
“Screening mammograms are an important test to have every year starting at age 40,” says Raymond Rost, MD, medical director, The Christ Hospital Comprehensive Breast Center. “But, be sure to talk to your doctors to understand your breast cancer risk and discuss a time that is right for you.”
Here are some tips to help your prepare for your mammogram.
Avoid deodorant the day of your appointment
On the day of your exam, do not apply deodorant, antiperspirants or lotions to your upper body area. These can show up as white spots on your mammogram, which might be incorrectly diagnosed as cancer or precancerous spots, according to womenshealth.gov.
Remember to wear a two-piece outfit that would allow you to remove the upper article of clothing while leaving on a skirt or pants. The mammogram center will provide a blanket and warm gown for privacy.
Understand the process
During the exam, you and the technician will be the only two people in the room. The technician will arrange your breast on the exam plate, then step out while the x-ray machine takes pictures. This involves compressing your breast for 20 to 30 seconds. The compression may be uncomfortable, but is necessary to flatten and spread your breast tissue to achieve readable results.
Taking a pain reliever ahead of your appointment may lessen your discomfort, as will making your appointment for the week after your period. The week before and during your menstrual cycle, your breasts will be especially tender.
The process will be repeated for the other side. The entire appointment is usually short — no more than 30 minutes. If you don't hear from your doctor within 10 days, you may choose to make a follow-up phone call for the results of your test.
Make sense of your results
A radiologist will study your mammogram to look for calcification and cancerous lumps in your breasts. Sometimes, a mammogram will reveal a benign cyst, but a cyst does not usually denote cancer. Your first mammogram will serve as a baseline for future tests. In the future, the radiologist will compare your breast images to look for changes over time. If you change doctors, have your mammogram images transferred to your new doctor’s office.
If your radiologist reports abnormal findings, you'll be referred for further testing, which might include a second mammogram, a biopsy, an MRI or a breast ultrasound. Abnormal readings are common in women younger than 50 and women who have naturally dense breasts. Women with denser breasts may find 3D mammography, as opposed to 2D, a better option to avoid false-positive results and get a clearer image of their breasts.
Mammograms play an important role in early detection of breast cancer. While most mammogram results come back cancer-free, if cancer is caught early, treatment has a higher chance of working, according to cancer.gov.