If you are 40 or over, the American Cancer Society recommends a screening mammogram once a year (every year going forward while you are in good health).
These exams will help you and your doctor determine what is normal for your breasts and what may be a sign of problems.
What to Expect
Understanding what happens during a mammogram will help reduce any anxiety you feel. It is important to know only a small amount of radiation is used in mammography. When you have a mammogram, you stand in front of a special X-ray machine. The mammography technologist lifts each breast and positions it on a platform. The platform can be adjusted to match your height. The breast is then gradually pressed against the platform by a specially-designed plastic plate. Some pressure is needed for a few seconds to make sure the X-rays show as much of the breast as possible. This pressure is not harmful to your breast. In fact, compressing the breast lowers the X-ray dose needed.
Studies show most women do not find mammograms particularly painful for the short time it takes to take the picture. Try to relax. If the pain becomes too great, you can ask to stop the procedure. If you have sensitive breasts, try scheduling your mammogram during a time of the month when your breasts will be least tender. Avoid scheduling the mammogram for the week before your period. This will help to lessen discomfort. If there is an area of your breast that appears to have a problem, the radiologist or mammography technologist may examine the breast.
How to Prepare
It is important for you to be as comfortable with the examination as possible. Here are some tips to help you prepare for the mammogram procedure:
- Wear a two-piece outfit so you will only have to remove your top.
- Don't use deodorant, talcum powder or lotion under your arms or on the breast that day. These products can show up on the X-ray.
- Bring the name, address and telephone number of your doctor or other healthcare provider so a report may be sent to him or her.
- Bring a list of the places and dates of mammograms, biopsies or other breast treatment you have had. If you have had mammograms at another facility, ask them to release them so you can bring them with you, if possible. The old mammograms can be compared to the new mammogram to reveal any changes in your breasts.
- Bring a list of any questions you have.
Remember, this is your mammogram and your breast health. Be sure to ask questions and be informed. If you are worried about discomfort, you may want to take a mild over-the-counter pain reliever about an hour before your mammogram. This will not affect the mammogram.
How to Follow-up
Learning the results of your mammogram and following through with your physician's recommendations is essential. You should not assume your X-rays are normal, just because you have not received any results. If you have not received your screening results within three weeks, consult your physician or mammography facility. When a diagnostic mammogram shows something abnormal, the radiologist may recommend another type of exam, such as a biopsy.
Whenever a mammogram uncovers a problem or a need to check something further, you need to:
- Understand what you need to do next
- Get the results of any test you have done
- Ask questions about your results if something is hard to understand
- Select a physician or other healthcare provider. If you need a physician, check the online Saint Francis Health System physician directory. You should schedule an appointment with your personal physician immediately to discuss the results of your mammogram.