How to Prepare for Your First Mammogram

Mammogram machine.

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Last year, I turned the big 4–0! During my annual GYN exam, I was advised to make an appointment for my first mammogram. Say what now?! I’m all about preventative care, but a mammogram sounded painful. Double ouch!

As someone who has an aversion to pain, I needed time to think.

Once I got home, I researched all things associated with a mammogram. To my surprise, the medical community is divided on the recommended age for your first mammogram. The guidelines differ amongst the following major health organizations: 

Womens Health word cloud

Do your research and have a discussion with your doctor so you can make an informed decision. Luckily, my Blue Cross covers one mammogram per year, starting at age 40, so I made an appointment. Here are a few tips to help you prepare for your first mammogram.

Before the Mammogram

  • Schedule the screening one week after your period because your breasts are less likely to be tender.
  • Morning appointments are ideal since you can’t wear deodorant, perfume, lotion, or powder. Wearing these products may lead to a false-positive, which means additional testing. 
  • Wear a two-piece outfit so that you can disrobe and put on a hip-length gown. 
Mammogram hip-length gown
  • Radiologists can more accurately interpret images by viewing your breasts in a series of layers. Therefore, you should opt for a 3D Tomosynthesis mammogram if it’s available. 
  • If you have a low tolerance for pain, take an over-the-counter pain reliever.

During the Mammogram

First, the technician explains the process to you. Next, you untie the gown and stand in front of the machine. Then, one breast is placed on the platform, and your body is positioned to maximize the amount of breast tissue seen on the image. After that, the technician lowers the top plate to compress your breast tissue. Flattening the breast tissue makes it easier for the radiologist to detect any abnormalities.

mammography machine breast compression

Last, you stand still and hold your breath for a few seconds while the technician takes a few images. Now it’s time for the other breast. The entire process takes about 30 minutes, so plan accordingly. 

After the Mammogram

The technician reviews the quality of the images. The screening is complete, provided that all of the images are adequate. You can expect to receive the results within two weeks. 

The technician may talk to you about a false positive. A false positive is common and doesn’t mean you have breast cancer. Additional testing is required to take a closer look at the area. 

The images are sent to a radiologist for interpretation, and a written report is sent to your doctor.

Results

The written report from the radiologist includes your results and breast density. Breast density matters because dense breast tissue increases your risk of getting breast cancer. In addition, it increases the chance of a false-negative because it is harder to spot a cancerous lump. 

My results were normal, and my breasts were classified as heterogeneously dense.

Breast Denisty Chart

Overall, it wasn’t a bad experience. The over-the-counter pain medicine helped, and I didn’t feel any pain during or after the procedure.

Wearing Hip Length Gown for First Mammogram

How to prepare for your First Mammogram. Mammogram machine.
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4 Comments

  1. May 28, 2019 / 1:15 pm

    I really need to get on this. It’s been quite a while. I never thought that I had anything to worry about, but then my mother was diagnosed with Metastatic breast cancer last June. I lost her in Jan. Making my appointment today! Thanks!

    • Jeanell
      Author
      May 30, 2019 / 10:28 pm

      I’m so sorry to hear about your mom. I’m glad that you are making an appointment. Sending prayers your way that the results are normal.

  2. May 28, 2019 / 10:24 am

    My breast cancer was diagnosed by my yearly mammogram. I was only a few months past 12 months from my previous clean exam and the mammogram showed I had text book breast cancer! Obviously I am a big big advocate of yearly mammograms. Take a couple of Advils and get it done every year after age 40. If 3D is available go for that. If an Ultra Sound is recommended go for it. Preventative care takes little time in the scheme of things!!!

    • Jeanell
      Author
      May 28, 2019 / 12:35 pm

      Thank you for reiterating the suggestions in this post. Your voice, as a survivor, adds weight to the importance of preventative care. ❤️

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