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:
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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.