So it’s time for your first mammogram and you’re nervous. Whether it’s your first time or you’re a veteran, knowing what to expect helps make the process go more smoothly.
To help put you at ease, Giovanna Melian, breast care coordinator, at Florida Hospital, explains what you should expect, and offers advice on how to best prepare for this important cancer-screening exam.
How to prepare
To make your experience more comfortable Melian suggests:
- Schedule your mammogram 10 to 14 days after the start of your menstrual cycle; the breasts are usually less tender.
- Schedule your appointment early in the day since you can’t wear deodorant, antiperspirant, lotion or powder. Some contain substances that may show up as white spots on your X-ray. It’s best to bring it with you and apply afterward.
- You only need to undress to the waist for your exam, so it’s easier if you wear separates.
- Avoid caffeine a week before your mammogram; it also can make your breasts tender.
What to expect during the scan
Most appointments take about 30 minutes says Melian. During your exam, images of your breast tissue will be taken using a device that compresses – spreads and flattens – the tissue to a tolerable position.
While compression may be slightly uncomfortable, it only lasts 20 to 30 seconds per breast. Melian advises if you experience discomfort or pain to tell your mammography technician and she’ll reposition you.
Compression is very important because it ensures a clear view of your breast and reduces the amount of radiation needed to make the image. These images are then checked for quality and given to the radiologist to read.
A radiologist, who is a board-certified physician, will review your results and send a detailed report to your doctor. It’s important to keep copies of your exams and results, so these can be used for comparison against future mammograms.
Most findings aren’t cancer
If you receive suspicious results, don’t worry. In most cases, unusual findings aren’t cancerous. Sometimes they’re the result of cysts, dense tissue or even an unclear image.
If your doctor thinks something looks suspicious, you may need another mammogram or a breast ultrasound, for further evaluation. If that’s the case, you’ll be contacted right away for follow-up and someone will walk you through the process so you know what to expect.
In either case, once the radiologist has interpreted your exam, a letter with your results will be mailed to your home. Also, you can access your health record online by creating an account at FloridaHospital.com.
Your breast health
Breast health should be part of your routine wellness plan early on, even if you don’t have a family history of breast cancer.
You’re encouraged to perform breast self-exams beginning in your early 20s. The reason: if you’re familiar with your breasts, you’ll be more likely to notice and differentiate a new symptom from normal tissue.
Your healthcare provider should perform clinical breast exams every three years through your 20s and 30s and annually after the age of 40.
Unless you have a family history of breast cancer, it’s recommended that annual mammograms beginning at age 40.
Mammograms continue to be our first line of defense in the battle against breast cancer. Mammograms don’t prevent cancer, but they help to find cancer as early as possible.