February 6, 2020
If you are preparing for or anticipating having to schedule your first mammogram, you may be wondering what to expect. A mammogram is a non-invasive diagnostic scan essential for early detection of breast cancer. It can be an inexpensive and highly effective method for reducing breast cancer risks. Having regular mammograms can be critical for those with a higher risk level or history of family breast cancer of any age.
Today, we'll provide a guide to preparing for your first mammogram and outline what you can expect during your first screening.
When Should You Have Your First Mammogram?
Many experts suggest annual mammograms are ideal for women within the 45-54 age range. Annual screenings are often recommended and can significantly reduce the risks of death as a result. In fact, research suggests regular mammograms reduce breast cancer death risks by 14% for women within 50 and 60 years old. Those percentages increase with age; up to 33% for those 60 to 70 years old. Some women may begin mammogram routines earlier in life, depending on individual health conditions, family history of breast abnormalities, or the discovery of a lump. Your health care provider can help you determine when it's best to begin your annual mammogram screenings.
Scheduling & Choosing a Facility
Your health care team or primary care physician may recommend a facility for your first mammogram. If you don't have a recommendation to guide you, consider finding an area location that routinely performs mammograms. As you prepare for your first mammogram, you'll want to choose a site that can perform your annual mammograms in the years to come. Staying with one provider can make it easier to compare results year after year.
Preparing for Paperwork & Forms
You will want to be mindful of your specific insurance carrier information ahead of time. Most insurance providers cover mammogram procedures as a standard, preventative visit. However, it's best to review your plan to understand what coverages apply to you. You will be asked to present your card at the time of your appointment. It is a common suggestion that you arrive to the appointment a little early, should you have insurance or provider related questions. Being early can also allocate enough time to complete any new patient, or medical history forms the facility may require.
Preparing for the Mammogram
When you are called back, you can expect to be situated in a private room. The technician will provide you with a waist-up gown for you to wear. In preparation before you go, it's best to make sure you're not wearing any jewelry or deodorant. It's also recommended that you not be wearing lotions or skincare products. The types of products can affect the imaging. If you arrive to your appointment having forgotten to abstain from these products, the technician can provide you with a warm cloth or towelette to remove them.
What to Expect During the Imaging Process
You can expect the procedure itself to be relatively brief. The technician will position the machine, and you, in order to take pictures of the breast. Once you are strategically positioned, you'll be asked to remain completely still and maybe to hold your breath for a few brief seconds during the picture-taking process. You can expect a few different positions for each breast. The technician may leave the room to digitally present the images to the on-staff Radiologist for quality review. If any of the pictures are obscure, the team may have you repositioned for a retake or two. Once they are confident the images are clear, you'll be free to get dressed and leave.
Are Mammograms Painful?
While you can expect mild discomfort during the mammogram process, it's relatively painless. Your breast will be positioned on a tray that is adjusted to accommodate your height. A top-level tray will be lowered to hold your breast in place. So, while it can be uncomfortable for a few moments, you won't encounter any significant pain. As an added tip, try to avoid scheduling your mammogram during the first week of or week prior to starting your period. Because your breasts can be sensitive during this time, the position requirements of a mammogram can be slightly more painful.
Related reading: Breast Cancer Misconceptions
Waiting for Results
Most routine mammogram results will be delivered to you by mail or phone and within ten days. You may be notified sooner, depending on the facility. Upon review of the images, the Radiologist may want additional scans, ultrasounds, or x-rays. Don't be alarmed if you receive notice to return for another round of images. It may mean there is an unclear area, that one of these other methods of imaging can portray better. Your referring physician can be of assistance during this follow-up and waiting period as well, should you have questions about follow up scan requests. Just know that callbacks can be common, and most prove not to represent breast cancer.
Getting Started on Your Path of Mammogram Routine Screening
It can be scary for some women to consider embarking on the annual mammogram routine. There may always be a subtle concern or anxiety that mammograms will uncover breast cancers. The good news is, screening often results in normal findings. For those instances when abnormalities are present, the early detection alone can be life-saving. If you're approaching the age of 45, it's a good idea to add mammograms to your roster of health-promoting and preventative visits. If you're younger, but have concerns with family history or a recently discovered lump, ask your primary care physician for guidance or referral to an area mammogram facility.
Consider mammograms as a necessary and diagnostic tool that helps better arm women to combat the risk of breast cancer. Images can provide valuable information about your current breast health. They can also serve as a timeline of changing breast health in the years to come. Being able to identify a mass early, or changes to breast tissue can help ensure your best chances of recovery, survival, and health preservation overall.