Mammograms are the subject of jokes and fears; as with most subjects the truth lies somewhere in the middle. While we all can laugh and commiserate don't let fear and apprehension cause you to postpone your mammogram.
When Should I Have My First Mammogram?
This completely depends on your family history and risk factors for breast cancer. You should discuss this with your OB/GYN on your next visit. In general, most women receive their first, or baseline, mammogram between the ages of 35 and 40; and begin having yearly mammograms after the age of 40.
There have been a lot of confusing studies released over the last few years that push yearly mammograms for women with no family history or risk factors to the age of 50. Your Doctor is the best source of information for you and will guide you into making the right decision.
What Should I Expect?
To get the best results from your mammogram there are a few things you should do:
NOTE: Tell the technician if you:
- Are pregnant
- Are breastfeeding
- Have breast implants —Ask if the facility uses special techniques to accommodate implants. Implants make it hard to see breast tissue.
On the day of your exam:
- Do not apply deodorant, talcum powder, lotion, or perfume near your breasts or under your arms.
- Ask your doctor if you should take a pain medicine like ibuprofen to relieve discomfort.
- Wear comfortable clothing so you can easily remove your shirt.
- Remove jewelry.
- Bring copies of previous mammograms and reports with you. If you have them done in the same facility each time, they will have results of prior years. The doctor can compare the old images to the new ones.
- Describe any breast problems to the technician before the exam
When you are ready for your mammogram you will change into an open front gown and stand in front of the mammography machine. The technician will give you clear instructions that will aid her in placing your breast in the correct position. Following her instructions will give your the best result and can help prevent having to have the test redone.
She will adjust the height of the machine and one breast will be lifted and placed between special plates that hold film. The plate is brought close to the platform and compresses the breast. This allows for a clearer image. The exam will cause some discomfort. Tell the technician if you feel any pain.
Two pictures of each breast are taken. During one, you face toward the platform and the image is taken looking down at the breast. For the second, you stand beside the machine. This allows for a side view. The x-rays are done on the other breast. Extra images may be needed if you have implants or if the doctor is looking at a specific spot more closely.
The test takes about 30-45 minutes.
The radiologist will look at the images. You will usually receive your results within 30 days. If you do not, call and ask for the results.
Your doctor will have a report and either send you a letter or talk to you about your condition. The next mammography is usually done in 1-2 years if everything is normal.
Mammograms can sometimes detect things that look like cancer but are not. If something is noticed on the mammogram, you may need to have other tests done, like an ultrasound or a breast biopsy. This will help determine if there is an actual problem or if everything is fine.
Also, like all screening tests, the mammogram will not detect every single abnormality.