Most women have heard horror stories about mammograms. You’ve heard that they’re at best uncomfortable and at worst painful. You might be nervous about having your breasts exposed for a procedure or the amount of radiation involved in the procedure.
Being nervous before your first mammogram is normal. The best way to alleviate that fear is to gather information about the procedure so you know what to expect. This quick guide will walk you through everything you need to know about your first mammogram.
What is a Mammogram?
A mammogram is a routine procedure in which an X-ray is taken of your breast tissue. The X-ray allows a trained technician and your doctor to see if there are any abnormalities in your breast tissue.
Since a mammogram is an X-ray, there is radiation involved in the procedure. However, the dose of radiation is very low and completely safe. Believe it or not, we’re all exposed to little doses of radiation as we move through the world. The amount of radiation in a mammogram is equal to the amount you’d be exposed to in about two months just by living your daily life.
Why Do You Need to Get a Mammogram?
If there’s nothing noticeably wrong with your breasts, then why do you need to get a mammogram? Because mammograms are the best tool doctors have to detect breast cancer and other diseases of the breast tissue early on. Mammograms can detect problems with your breast tissue before you or your doctor can even feel or notice that something is wrong.
Detecting breast cancer early on is crucial to successful treatment and survival rates. Studies have shown that if breast cancer is detected in the earliest stages when it’s still localized to a small area of breast tissue, there’s a 99% chance of survival five years out from the diagnosis.
When diagnosed early, breast cancer is treatable and the outcomes are good. Regular mammograms are the best way to get an early diagnosis so treatment can be started before the disease progresses.
When Should You Get Your First Mammogram?
The guidelines about when you should get your first mammogram vary. Some doctors recommend that women should start getting mammograms every year starting when they turn 40. Other doctors recommend waiting until you’re 45. Some healthcare professionals even say that you can wait until you’re 50.
Since early diagnosis of breast cancer is essential, the majority of doctors recommend getting your first mammogram at 40. Insurance companies typically cover mammograms for all women over the age of 40. So, you should be covered to start getting mammograms then.
One thing to note: the younger you are, the more likely you are to get a false positive on a mammogram. Women in their 40s and 50s are more likely to get a false positive than older women. A false positive is when abnormalities are detected on the mammogram, but upon further testing, no cancer is found.
Luckily, new technologies like artificial intelligence in the mammogram review process are leading to fewer false positives. Discover more about these new technologies and where they’re available.
The chance for a false positive shouldn’t deter you from getting tested though. Discuss it with your doctor and find out when they recommend you start getting regular mammograms.
What Happens During a Mammogram?
Let’s get to the good news up front. Most women say that their first mammogram wasn’t as awful as they thought it would be.
When you’re called back into the exam room, you’ll be asked to undress from the waist up. You might not want to wear a dress on the day of your appointment to make disrobing easier.
The only other person in the room will be the mammogram tech, the person who performs the test. Remember, this is their job and they see breasts all day, so no need to worry about modesty.
You’ll sit in front of the mammogram machine. The tech will position your breast on a plate. Then they’ll flatten your breast and press another plate on top of it. This may be uncomfortable or even painful, but it’s necessary. In order to get a high-quality picture of your breast tissue, your breast needs to be as flat as possible.
The tech will take two X-rays of each breast. They’ll open the plates to reposition you for each shot, so your breast will only be flattened for a few seconds at a time. They’ll take the pictures one breast at a time.
The entire procedure only takes about 10-20 minutes.
Tips for Your First Mammogram
There are some things you should know before your first mammogram that will make the process a bit easier for you.
Do not wear deodorant, perfume, powder, or lotion on your breasts or under your arms on the day of your mammogram. These things will interfere with the mammogram machine and may cause distorted results. If you’re worried about being stinky on the day of your mammogram, schedule it in the morning and bring your nice smelling things in your purse.
If you can avoid it, don’t schedule your mammogram the week before or during your period. Your breasts are likely to be more tender during these weeks, so it could make the procedure more painful.
As previously mentioned, choose your outfit for the day knowing that you’ll need to undress from the waist up and take off your bra. You’ll want to wear a bra that’s easy to remove and you probably want to opt for pants or a skirt so you don’t have to completely undress.
Mammograms Are Lifesavers
Hopefully, this information puts you a little more at ease about your first mammograms. Though the procedure may be uncomfortable, it’s likely not as bad as you’re imagining it will be.
Any discomfort you do experience is worth it to ensure that you and your breasts are healthy. Mammograms lead to early detection, which saves lives.
For more information about living your healthiest life, check out the Health section of our site.