Here's what you need to know!
Mammograms save lives. We all know it. But we can also admit it’s not exactly a fun thing to add to your calendar, especially if you’ve never had one before. “They’re going to do WHAT to my breasts?!” Even people getting their second or third mammogram screening may have some stress or concerns around the procedure. Knowing what to expect and how best to prepare to make your mammogram appointment as comfortable as possible can help.
So, let’s hit the basics first: when and why should you get one?
One in eight women in the United States will develop breast cancer in their lifetime, and next to lung cancer, it is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in women. Men who develop breast cancer, an average of 2,600 of them per year, face the risk of being diagnosed at a later stage than women. About 500 out of those 2,600 men will die from the disease. It is recommended women get their first mammogram at 40 and continue to get screened once a year. There are no formal screening guidelines for men who are high risk … so if you’re a man with a personal history of breast cancer, such as first-degree family history, you’ll want to be on top of self-breast exams and reporting changes to your doctor.
Sexual minority women, (LGBQ) who are cisgender may have an increased risk due to never having children or having children later in life and higher rates of alcohol use and obesity in the community. While there is not yet enough research to determine how transgender people are affected by breast cancer, those who work in transgender health note the risk of breast cancer increases following breast development and five or more years of hormone therapy in transgender women. For a transgender man, excessive testosterone in the body can convert into estrogen, which leads to an increased risk.
For most, a mammogram is hands down the best way to detect breast cancer as early as possible. It uses low-dose x-rays to create an image of the breast tissue and can detect lumps that are too small to be felt.
How to prepare for your mammogram screening
First, if you’ve had mammograms at another facility, try to get ahold of your records of any procedures, including biopsies, to bring with you.
Try to avoid scheduling your mammogram the week just before your period. If you schedule your appointment during a week your breasts are less likely to be tender or swollen, you can reduce your discomfort during the procedure and ensure better pictures.
Wear a two-piece outfit, so you’ll only have to remove your shirt and/or bra.
Skip applying deodorant, antiperspirant, lotions, powders, perfumes, or creams under your arms or on your breasts on the day of the appointment. Some of these products contain substances that will show up on x-rays as white spots. If you’re not able to go home after your exam, consider taking your deodorant or antiperspirant with you to put on after your appointment.
Before getting your mammogram, make sure your health care provider is aware of any recent changes or problems in your breasts, and make sure they are apprised of any medical history that could affect your risk of breast cancer.
Leave any necklaces or neck jewelry at home. They can interfere with x-ray images.
Consider pain medication, like over-the-counter Tylenol or Advil, that can help ease discomfort. Of course, check with your doctor before taking any new medications.
You can eat and drink as you normally would before your mammogram and take your daily medications as usual. That said, consider reducing your caffeine and chocolate intake three or four days before your appointment. Caffeine can make your breasts more tender.
You will be standing for your mammogram and may be asked to lean forward or backward to achieve the best position for your screening. Wear comfortable shoes with flats or low heels.
To help ensure you have a quality exam, tell your technologist about any changes or problems in your breasts, if you have breast implants, if you have trouble standing still alone without the aid of a cane or walker, or if you’re breastfeeding or think you might be pregnant.
What to expect at your screening
You will be asked to undress above the waist and will be given a gown or wrap to wear.
If you’re worried about your modesty, you and your technologist will be the only people in the room during your mammogram.
Your breast must be compressed or flattened to get a high-quality picture. You will be directed to stand in front of the machine and the technologist will place your breast where it needs to be. The upper plastic plate will then be lowered to compress your breast for around 10 to 15 seconds while the x-ray is taken. Then, you’ll change positions, so your breast is compressed sideways for the next x-ray.
The breast compression portion of the exam only lasts 10 to 15 seconds for each image. The whole procedure should only take about 20 minutes.
Most people experience some discomfort during the breast compression, but for some women it can be painful. Don’t be afraid to tell your technologist if the process is hurting so they can make adjustments for your comfort.
For a screening mammogram, two views of each breast will be taken. But if you have larger breasts or breast implants, more pictures may be needed.
PBH provides screening and/or diagnostic mammograms, ultrasounds, and biopsies at no cost for medically uninsured women aged 40 and over whose income is no more than 400 percent of the federal poverty level. Other individuals may qualify with a physician’s referral. PBH partners with Haven Health Clinic for clinical breast exams and physician’s referrals. PBH contracts with BSA Harrington Breast Center for screening services. Ask them about their Mobile Mammography availability.