What You Should Know About Getting a Mammogram
Many women are apprehensive when it comes to getting a mammogram. Whether it’s a fear of what the result may be or a hesitation after hearing the process is uncomfortable, we’re here to remind you that the benefits outweigh the hesitations and to prepare you for your next mammogram.
The United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends women between ages 50-74 get a mammogram every 2 years. The National Cancer Institute (NCI) has a different set of guidelines, recommending every 1-2 years starting at age 40. We recommend talking with your doctor to decide the best course of action for you as your personal health, habits and family history can play a part in when you should start having preventative screenings. Even if you do not have a family history of breast cancer, annual mammograms play a critical role in tracking any changes in your breasts over time and can detect changes early.
So what exactly is a mammogram?
A mammogram is an x-ray of the breast. It gives doctors insight and a visual of breast tissue that cannot be accomplished during a breast exam. There are two types of mammograms; diagnostic and screening. A screening mammogram is a preventative measure and is taken from 2 angles. A diagnostic mammogram is more in-depth, as it is used to diagnose women who have symptoms or abnormal results from their office exam or screening mammogram. However, abnormal results do not immediately mean cancer. Often times a diagnostic mammogram is required to simply examine the breast tissue in greater detail.
What should I do to prepare?
Ask your doctor to recommend a screening facility that specializes in mammography and confirm on your own that it’s FDA-approved. When you schedule your appointment, avoid making it for the week prior to your menstrual period as your breasts are more sensitive during that time.
Anything I need to do the day-of my screening?
It’s more a case of what not to do. Do not wear perfumes or deodorants as they can create shadows on your x-rays. Do not wear a dress as it’s easier to slip off your shirt rather than having to completely disrobe. Don’t panic if you forget… gowns should always be provided.
Is there anything I need to bring to my appointment?
Remember to bring the written order that includes your doctor’s name, address and phone number so the x-ray facility can send the results to the proper contact.
What can I expect during the actual mammogram?
Your appointment will likely last around 20 minutes. If you are concerned about discomfort, keep in mind the actual x-ray will only take a few seconds and always tell the technician if you are experiencing too much pain. Most facilities use padded compression and the technician can make adjustments so you are not uncomfortable. Compression is required to flatten the breast tissue, making it easiest to read and find any abnormalities. The technician is a professional and is there to help you. If you have questions, ask. If you are uncomfortable, say so.
Anything I need to do after my appointment?
Schedule an appointment for next year. It will get you on their calendar and avoid forgetting or delaying making your appointment a year later. Your doctor should call you with the results of your mammogram within 10 days of your appointment. If you don’t hear from your doctor, don’t assume that means no news. Call the office and confirm directly. If your doctor does find something out of the ordinary, rest assured it doesn’t necessarily mean cancer. Often times shadows, cysts or just dense tissue can create abnormal images requiring a follow-up. Also continue annual visits with your doctor. And continue monthly self-exams to understand what is normal for your breasts, reporting anything unusual to your doctor well before your annual mammogram.
If there’s one thing to know when it comes to mammograms, it’s that mammograms save lives. We take preventative measures when it comes to our family’s health. Let’s do the same for our own bodies and future!
Photo credit: merfam
Editor’s Note: This post first appeared on A Healthier Michigan in October 2013.