A mammogram is a diagnostic test that uses low-dose X-rays to examine the breasts for any potential abnormalities. This test is essential in breast cancer screening, as it can detect abnormalities in the breast tissue that may not be palpable during a physical exam. With early detection, breast cancer is more treatable, which is why mammograms are critical in detecting breast cancer at its earliest, most treatable stages.
It is recommended that women get regular mammograms starting at the age of 40, even if they are healthy and have no noticeable symptoms. Women with a family history of breast cancer or other high-risk factors, such as genetic mutations, may need to start mammogram screenings earlier and receive them more often.
Preparing for a mammogram can be a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be. Learning about what to expect during the exam can help to ease any concerns or anxiety about the process.
Typically, mammograms are performed in a medical imaging center or hospital. When arriving for your appointment, you’ll be asked to remove any jewelry or clothing from the waist up, and put on a medical gown. Depending on the imaging center, you may be asked to avoid deodorant, powder, or lotion under your arms or on your breasts on the day of your exam, as these products can interfere with the accuracy of the mammogram. It is essential to follow all pre-exam instructions given to you by the center to ensure accurate results.
During the mammogram, you’ll stand in front of a special X-ray machine. A technologist will position your breast on a small clear plastic plate, and then another plate will descend to compress the breast tissue between the two. While this may be uncomfortable for a few seconds, it is essential for getting clear images of the breast tissue. The technologist will then take images of the breast from multiple angles to ensure any abnormalities are visible on the images. The entire process typically takes about 20 minutes.
It is normal to feel anxious or nervous about getting a mammogram, but remember that early detection is key to treating breast cancer. By following the pre-exam instructions given to you and understanding what to expect during the exam, you can be better prepared for a successful screening. Talk with your doctor or healthcare provider to determine when you should start getting mammograms and how often you should receive them, based on your individual needs and risk factors.
Talk to Your Doctor
Before going for a mammogram, you must speak with your doctor about the procedure. Your doctor can guide you through the process and answer any queries you may have.
It’s vital to inform your doctor about any prior surgeries, breast-related medical history, or past mammograms. This will help them determine the best screening process for you.
You must also inform your doctor if you’re pregnant or suspect that you might be as mammograms use X-rays that may harm the fetus. Therefore, if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, you should postpone your mammogram.
You may also have concerns about the procedure’s discomfort and pain levels. It’s crucial to discuss these with your doctor as different techniques or pain medication may be used to make your experience more comfortable.
By discussing everything with your doctor, you’ll be more prepared for your mammogram, making the screening process more effective.
Preparing for the Exam
Getting a mammogram may be uncomfortable, but it is an important part of maintaining breast health. To ensure the most accurate results, it is crucial to prep beforehand. Here are a few tips to prepare for your mammogram:
1. Wear Comfortable Clothing
On the day of your mammogram, it is best to wear comfortable clothing, preferably a two-piece outfit. This will make it easier to undress from the waist up and make the mammogram a smoother experience. Avoid wearing any lotions, creams, or powders around your chest and underarm area as they can affect the quality of the images.
2. Skip Deodorants, Powders, or Perfumes
Deodorants, powders, and perfumes contain metallic particles that can interfere with the mammogram images. These substances can generate shadows that mimic tiny calcifications and make it difficult to interpret the results. Therefore, it is essential to avoid using any of these products on the day of your mammogram.
3. Discuss Breast Changes or Pain with the Technologist
Before the mammogram, it is important to discuss any breast changes, pain, or discomfort with the technologist. Explain any details such as the duration, location, and intensity of the symptoms. This information helps the technologist to select the best approach for the mammogram that will cause the least amount of discomfort while providing the most accurate results.
Additionally, it is important to inform the technologist if you have breast implants, as this changes the technique used during the mammogram to ensure that breast tissue is not compressed or distorted.
With these preparations, your mammogram is likely to be more comfortable and produce the most accurate results possible. If you have any questions or concerns about the mammogram, do not hesitate to speak up and ask the technologist for clarification.
During the Exam
When you come in for a mammogram, the first step is to check in at the front desk and then wait to be called back by the technologist. Once you’re in the exam room, the technologist will explain the procedure and answer any questions you may have.
Next, you’ll need to undress from the waist up and put on a hospital gown. The technologist will then position one of your breasts on a clear plastic plate and lower another plastic plate on top of it to flatten the breast tissue. This compression may cause some discomfort or even pain, but it only lasts for a few seconds while each image is taken.
It’s important to hold still during the exam to avoid blurring the images, which could make it difficult for the radiologist to read. The technologist may ask you to take a deep breath and hold it while the image is taken, or to turn or reposition slightly to ensure that all of the tissue has been captured.
After each image is taken, the technologist will review it to make sure that it’s clear and that all of the necessary tissue has been captured. If any images need to be retaken, the technologist will do so before you leave the exam room.
The entire exam usually takes less than 30 minutes from start to finish. Some women experience mild discomfort during the exam, while others find it to be painless. If you’re concerned about the discomfort or have a low pain tolerance, you may want to ask your doctor about taking an over-the-counter pain medication before the exam to help alleviate any discomfort.
After the Exam
Once the mammogram is complete, you will be asked to wait while the technician confirms that the images are clear and complete. The entire procedure usually takes about 30 minutes. After the exam, it is normal to feel a bit anxious or nervous about the results. However, there are things that you can do to prepare for what happens after your mammogram.
Firstly, make sure to follow up with your doctor after your mammogram to get the results. Your doctor should receive a copy of the report within a few days, and they will be in the best position to provide you with information on any next steps. If the results are concerning, they may order further tests or refer you to a specialist for further evaluation. Remember, most mammogram results are normal, so try not to worry too much unless you are given a reason to!
Secondly, make sure to attend your regular mammogram appointments. Mammograms should be done on a regular basis to catch any changes or abnormalities early, when they are easier to treat. Your doctor will recommend how often you need to have mammograms if you have any risk factors for breast cancer. If you have had a mammogram before, it is important to bring a copy of your previous images to your appointment so that the radiologist can compare the images and look for any changes.
Thirdly, be aware of the signs and symptoms of breast cancer. Although most breast lumps are not cancerous, it is important to know the signs and symptoms of breast cancer, which can include a lump or thickening in the breast, nipple discharge, or a change in the appearance of the breast or nipple. If you notice any changes in your breast, make sure to tell your doctor right away.
Finally, take care of yourself. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle can help reduce your risk of developing breast cancer. This includes eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, limiting your alcohol consumption, and not smoking. Additionally, if you are at high risk for breast cancer, your doctor may recommend other interventions, such as taking medication to reduce your risk.
Overall, mammograms are an important part of women’s health. While they may be uncomfortable, they can help detect breast cancer early, when it is most treatable. By preparing for your mammogram, following up with your doctor, and taking care of yourself, you can take an active role in your breast health and reduce your risk of breast cancer.