Taking the mystery out of mammograms

It’s time for your screening mammogram. Do you know what to expect? What to do? Here are seven steps you can take to help you prepare for your test.

If you’ve never had a mammogram, getting your first can feel intimidating. But the benefits of this potentially life-saving screening to detect breast cancer far outweigh the risks of experiencing something unknown.

Why mammograms are important

If you are a woman, a mammogram is actually one of the best things you can do to detect and address breast cancer, the most common type of cancer and the second leading cause of cancer death in women.

Estimates are that 1 in 8 women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime. The earlier breast cancer is found, the better the survival rate.

Mammography is the gold standard for early breast cancer detection. Mammograms, which are X-ray images of the breast, can find lumps two or three years before a woman or her health care provider can feel them. The National Cancer Institute estimates that early detection of breast cancer reduces the risk of dying from the disease by 25 percent to 30 percent.

Screenshot from video interview of cancer survivor
A mammogram saved Mickey’s life 22 years ago. Watch her story.

What to expect during your appointment

For your mammogram appointment, you will be asked to disrobe from the waist up and to wear a gown. You will sit or stand in front of the mammography machine where a technician will help you get into the proper position. Each of your breasts will be placed, one at a time, on a platform and compressed between two plates. The compression, which is necessary to get a clear image, can be uncomfortable but only lasts about 10 seconds. Two images of each breast are taken, one vertically and one horizontally.

The exam takes about 15 minutes. A radiologist will evaluate the images and send you a letter with the results. If there are questions about your results, he or she will call you for more images or tests.

Schedule your mammogram today. Find a mammogram location

7 steps for a better mammogram

Go to a certified facility. You want a facility that specializes in mammograms and does many a day. In addition, if you continue going to the same facility, they will be able to compare your images over time to detect any changes.

Do not wear deodorant, antiperspirant, lotion or powder as these chemicals can interfere with your image.

Schedule your appointment for the week after you have had your period. Menstrual hormones can make your breasts more sensitive and swollen, leading to discomfort or pain during the compression.

Wear a two-piece outfit so you only have to remove your top, and leave your jewelry at home.

Take Tylenol or ibuprofen prior to your appointment if you are worried about discomfort.

Know your family history for breast cancer. It is estimated that 5 percent to 10 percent of breast cancers are hereditary.

If your breasts are tender after you have caffeine, skip your morning cup of coffee.

Good to know

If you are called back for further examinations or tests, do not panic. Not all findings are cancer. In fact, less than 10 percent of abnormal findings in mammograms are breast cancer.