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March 9, 2021

What to Expect During a Mammogram

What to Expect During a Mammogram

Over 275,000 new cases of invasive breast cancer are diagnosed each year. With breast cancer, a good prognosis is dependent on detecting it early. That's why it's critical that women take breast cancer screening seriously. It is important to get a mammogram when recommended based on your age and risk factors. Perhaps you're uncertain about what to expect at the first mammogram. Here's what you need to know.

FAQs About Mammograms

What Is a Mammogram?

A mammogram is one of the most common forms of breast cancer screening. It is a non-invasive procedure that provides a diagnostic scan using a low-dose x-ray that produces a black and white image that can potentially detect breast cancer earlier than any other method.

What Are Mammograms Used for?

For a screening mammogram, the radiologist will look at the pictures for any signs of irregularities. These could include:

  • Skin thickening
  • Small calcification clusters
  • Increased density in abnormal areas
  • Asymmetry in the breasts

In addition to being used for breast cancer screening, they are also used for diagnostic purposes. When the radiologist finds abnormalities, further tests are needed, the most common of which is the diagnostic mammogram. These are also used in other circumstances such as when a lump is felt. Diagnostic mammograms usually require more pictures than a screening mammogram. The radiologist will examine the pictures and if there are calcifications or masses of concern. Then the patient may be sent to have a biopsy test and consult with an oncologist.

How Much Does a Mammogram Cost?

Most insurance policies cover the cost of a screening mammogram in full if you are at the recommended age to begin breast cancer screening. If you are a self-pay patient they can range between $150 and $300+ depending on whether it's a 3D mammogram.

When Should I Have My First Mammogram?

For women of average risk for developing breast cancer should start receiving a mammogram every 1-2 years at age 40. Some doctors will suggest a baseline mammogram at about age 35 so there is something to compare to when you start your regular screenings at age 40. For those at higher risk of cancer, mammograms may be recommended at a much earlier age, and with greater frequency. Those with risk factors should discuss the timing of their first mammogram with their doctor.

How Should I Choose Where to Have a Mammogram Performed?

Work with your healthcare provider to choose a facility that is convenient to you. Ideally, you can choose one that specializes in mammograms. It's a good idea to choose one that is in your area, as it is best to return to the same facility for every exam. This makes it easier for different years' exams to be compared. If you're unable to visit the same facility, you should bring your records with you to the new facility.

Do I need a 3D mammogram?

Standard 2D mammograms have done an excellent job of detecting cancer at very early stages for many years. However, 3D technology is now available, making it even easier to tell the difference between healthy breast tissue and a mass. Insurance does not always cover 3D mammograms in full so be sure to ask about any additional costs before you make your decision.

Is There a Good Time to Schedule a Mammogram Appointment?

Try to avoid scheduling the appointment when your breasts are swollen. Not only can this increase discomfort during the procedure, it can also diminish the quality of the image. Avoid scheduling a mammogram for the week before your period.

What Should I Know Before I Go to My Mammogram?

Wear a top with pants or a skirt instead of a dress on the day of your mammogram, as you will be required to remove all clothing from the waist up to undergo the procedure. It is also best to avoid wearing any jewelry as you'll have to remove this before the mammogram. Most importantly, you should refrain from using deodorant, as well as any lotions or creams as this can show up on the mammogram as white spots.

What Should I Tell the Technician at my Mammogram?

As with any medical procedure, always let the technician know if you're pregnant or breastfeeding. Additionally, let the technician know about any changes to your breasts or problems you've been having. You should also share any relevant risk factors for breast cancer.

What Is the Imaging Process Like?

The actual mammogram is a brief process; it takes about 20 minutes in total. The only other person in the room with you will be the technician, who will adjust the position of the equipment and your breast in order to get all of the images needed. The technician may have to leave the room to consult with the radiologist for quality review, and then re-take any pictures that require better images. The goal of the mammogram is to get a clear enough picture to detect breast cancer at the earliest stages. The technician may also ask you to hold your breath for a few seconds to better get a still shot. Quality images are achieved by using a plate to compress each breast. Usually, a screening mammogram requires two pictures of each breast, but some women will require additional pictures.

Does Getting a Mammogram Hurt?

The part of the mammogram where the breasts are compressed may cause some mild discomfort. If it hurts, you should let your technician know. Having your breasts compressed only lasts a few seconds of the entire procedure, and is the only part that can cause any discomfort.

How Will I Get My Results?

Most mammogram results are received within ten days by mail or phone. The radiologist may decide that additional scans, x-rays or ultrasounds are required based on the results of the mammogram. While it is important to follow up with these procedures, they should not be cause for worry, as it may just be that a clearer image is required in certain areas.

Making Mammograms a Routine Part of Life

Regardless of risk factor, women in their 40s should consider making mammograms a routine part of life. The procedure is nothing to fear. It is quick, inexpensive and painless, and most important of all, it's a lifesaving tool. The vast majority of mammograms come back normal, and many mammograms with irregularities only require further testing. Mammograms that detect cancer at its earliest stages provide the best shot at a quick recovery.

Mammograms are also a powerful diagnostic tool. Having the images done regularly provides an in-depth look at your breast health over time. Your first mammograms provide a baseline of your personal breast health.

Categories: Breast Cancer