Preparing for Your First Mammogram
Your latest milestone birthday might have come with a recommendation from your physician to begin mammogram screenings.
DOs, or osteopathic physicians, focus on prevention by gaining a deeper understanding of your lifestyle and environment as they partner to help you get healthy and stay well. Below, Teresa A. Hubka, DO, an osteopathic obstetrician and gynecological surgeon, explains what to expect when getting a mammogram.
How mammograms work
A mammogram is an X-ray image taken of your breast. During the exam, each breast is placed between two plates on an imaging machine designed specifically for mammograms. Pressure is applied for a few seconds to flatten soft tissue. This should cause minimal discomfort.
An X-ray captures black-and-white images of your breasts that are displayed on a computer screen. Doctors use these images to locate any suspicious tissue.
Why get a mammogram?
Mammograms can be used for either screening or diagnostic purposes.
An annual screening can be used as an early prevention tool to detect changes in breast tissue for women who do not have any symptoms. Many women begin annual exams at age 40, although the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends women wait until age 50.
“There isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ approach to screening for serious diseases like breast cancer. That’s why it is best to discuss options with your physician about what is right for you based on your background and risk factors,” says Dr. Hubka, the medical director of Comprehensive Wellness Care in Chicago.
A diagnostic mammogram investigates any suspicious breast changes, such as lumps or breast pain. It also is used to evaluate changes in findings from previous mammograms.
Typically, mammograms take place in a hospital’s radiology department. It is best not to schedule an exam during your period when your breasts are likely to be tender.
Be sure to skip deodorant the day of the exam as the metal in deodorant can affect the findings of the mammogram. Also bring along any prior mammogram images if you are going to a new facility.
What about radiation exposure?
You will be exposed to a low dose of radiation. “It’s a safe, small amount of radiation that shouldn’t have any short- or long-term effect,” Dr. Hubka says.
How long does it take?
Mammograms usually take about 20 minutes. After images are taken of both breasts, a radiologist will study the images and send a written report to your doctor.