Personal Health

A Woman's Need-to-Know Guide to Getting a Mammogram

Getting a mammogram is an important part of your health monitoring. It doesn't take much time or effort to do the test and make sure that your breasts are healthy, and it will enable you to get early treatment if necessary. But if you've never had a mammogram before, you may not be sure what to expect.

A mammogram is an X-ray of breast tissue, and it screens for breast cancer. The imaging equipment has movable parts that the technician will use to press the breast flat. This pressure may feel a bit awkward and uncomfortable, but it's necessary in order to get a clear picture. The breasts will be scanned individually, with a few images taken from different angles on each breast in order to give the medical team a better look inside.

Once the technician finishes taking the images, you will be asked to wait while the images are reviewed. If the images are clear enough, you are free to go, and your medical team will follow up with the results. They may ask you to stay for additional images if they have questions or concerns and need to take a closer look. Often, this just means that your breast tissue is dense and they need to press them a little flatter in order to get the image they need.

Tips for Getting a Mammogram

When scheduling your mammogram, consider your menstrual cycle and the days that your breasts are most likely to be tender. Try to schedule the screening at a time when your breasts will be less sensitive to mild pressure.

Do not use deodorant, an antiperspirant, or any other topical application on your breasts or under your arms on the day of the mammogram. Ingredients in these products can make the images more difficult to read.

For this type of screening, you will need to remove all clothing from the waist up. Consider this fact when you get dressed that day. Pants or a skirt are more practical than a one-piece dress that would need to be entirely removed.

If you are referred for mammography while you are breastfeeding, be sure the technician is aware that you are lactating at the time you make the appointment. They may request that you bring your baby to the appointment to feed just prior to the imaging. This will empty your breast to allow them to get a clearer image. In that case, you will also need to bring along another adult to watch your child while you are being screened.

Results

You should receive the results of your breast imaging in less than a month, and typically in just a few days. If the results are normal, that's wonderful! Simply schedule your next mammogram at the agreed-upon interval, usually in two years. If the results of the breast imaging are not normal, there's no need to panic: There are other things that the abnormality could be besides breast cancer. They may ask you to return for an ultrasound or a breast MRI to take a closer look at your breast and see if there is a need for a biopsy.

Mammography is a easy and quick step that you can take every couple of years to make sure that your breasts remain healthy and address any issues that might come up as early as possible. It takes only a little effort for a lot of peace of mind.

Posted in Personal Health

Judy Schwartz Haley is a freelance writer and blogger. She grew up in Alaska and now makes her home in Seattle with her husband and young daughter. Judy battled breast cancer when her daughter was an infant, and now she devotes much of her free time to volunteering as a state leader with the Young Survival Coalition, which supports young women with breast cancer.

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*This information is for educational purposes only and does not constitute health care advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor or physician before making health care decisions.