Your First Mammogram: What to Expect

I recently had my first mammogram. It wasn’t 100% routine, because I did feel a lump in my right breast, but even so – it got me thinking about all the women who go to their first mammogram nervous and even frightened. Here are the basics of your first mammogram and what to expect.

What is a mammogram?

A mammogram is a picture of your breast. The machine provides a low dose of x-rays so that it can clearly see the tissues inside your breast. Mammogram screenings are done to assess for breast cancer. They might be done as a routine part of a check-up or if you feel something abnormal in one or both of your breasts.

Benefits of Mammography for Women in their 40’s

It’s important you know that there isn’t an exact science as to when you should have your first mammogram. But, science does tell us a few things about mammograms for women in their 40’s:

  • Breast tissue density is higher in your 40’s, making abnormal findings harder to see.
  • Breast cancer in younger women tends to grow faster than in older women. So, if you start mammograms in your 40’s, you have to have mammograms frequently to catch breast cancer early. In fact, the normal timing of every 1-2 years may not even be soon enough to detect breast cancer timely.
  • Your risk of breast cancer is lower than in older women. This isn’t to say that it can’t happen, so be sure that you call your doctor right away if you feel anything abnormal.
  • You might at a higher risk of false positive results – this means you’ll be told your results were abnormal and will go through follow-up tests only, to be told you don’t have breast cancer.

If you do need to get mammogram images done in your 40’s, here’s a few things to expect during your first breast cancer screening:

Dress the part

Be ready to undress from the waist up. Don’t use any soaps, lotions, perfumes, or deodorants on the day of the test because they might interfere with the mammogram images or even be mistaken for cancer.

If you like to wear dresses or rompers, hold off wearing these fun outfits on the day of your mammogram screening. Once the test starts, you’re going to have at least one breast exposed at a time, so if you don’t don’t have on bottoms – you will be standing in your skivvies during the breast cancer exam.

It’s going to be uncomfortable

So, here’s how this is going to go down:

The technologist will position you facing the machine. They will touch your breast to place it onto the flat surface. Don’t be alarmed if they get a little handsy – they need to ensure they get the best pictures, which will require them to hold your breast tissue.

Once in place, they will lower down a compression paddle that will squeeze the breast tissue and hold it in the proper position so the image can be taken. This is when you might feel some pressure and discomfort. Try to take light breaths and hold still so that the picture can be taken as quickly as possible, while still being a clear and accurate image.

Once the image is done, the technologist will release the compression. Then, they will do the mammogram screening on the other breast. All of the mammogram images will be reviewed by a radiologist who will look for abnormalities.

Additional screenings aren’t always bad

Once your mammogram is done, you might be told that you need you to have other images performed, such as magnified views or ultrasound. The decision to do more breast cancer screenings is based on your mammogram report assessment. These additional images are just other ways of looking at the breast tissue.

You might also be told to come back in a few months to have a repeat mammogram. This allows the radiologist to compare the results of the two mammogram images to look for changes.

This news can be scary, it was for me, but it’s essential you understand that this doesn’t mean you have cancer. It merely says that the doctor saw something abnormal and wants to watch it. If there is something to be concerned about, the issue will change within the 4-6 months you wait to have the repeat test and then the doctor will have a better idea of the appropriate next steps to see what’s really going on.

If you’re wondering if your first mammogram should be done in your forties, talk to your doctor during your next check-up. They will ask you questions about your health and family history to decide the right time for you to start regular breast cancer screenings with mammogram images. I


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