7 Things to Expect from Your First Mammogram

Women have their first mammogram as they approach 40 years old. However, this also depends on our family history and our past medical history.
7 Things to Expect from Your First Mammogram

Last update: 18 January, 2019

Breast cancer is the second most frequent type of cancer in the world and the most common among women. However, if is diagnosed at an early stage then there’s a high probability that it can be treated. Maybe you’re preparing for your first mammogram and you’re a bit nervous about it. We’ll be putting you at ease in this article.

The main way to detect breast cancer is through annual mammograms, and examinations carried out by a specialist.

However, mammograms are not recommended for women under the age of 45. This is due to their dense breast tissue, which makes it difficult to interpret the results of the mammogram and consequently detect problems.

In addition, women under the age of 45 are less likely to develop breast cancer.

Nonetheless, many women experience their first mammogram between the ages of 35 to 40 years old. If you’re expecting to have a mammogram soon, then here are seven facts about this procedure.

1. You will feel some pressure

Woman about to have a mammogram.

During a mammogram, it’s necessary for the doctor to lightly compress the breasts. This is to obtain a high-quality mammogram, and to expose the patient to as little radiation as possible.

Unfortunately, this compression could cause pain for some women. However, other women may only experience slight discomfort.

It’s quite common for women to experience a variety of sensations as each woman has a different pain threshold.

Nevertheless, if you do feel pain during a mammogram then you should remember that it will only last for a couple of minutes.

2. Avoid scheduling your first mammogram days before your period

Mammograms should ideally be done during the second or third week of your menstrual cycle. This is because there is less glandular breast tissue, which allows the exam to be more detailed and less uncomfortable.

Moreover, your breasts tend to be more sensitive during menstruation or during the weeks after your period, due to a change in hormone levels. This could cause pain during the exam and make the mammogram more uncomfortable.

3. Notify your doctor that you have silicone implants

Woman with breast implants.

Silicone prostheses can interfere with the visualization of the breasts on the X-ray. This is why it’s extremely important that you tell the radiologist, who will be doing your exam, if you have breast implants.

This will enable the doctor to adjust the amount of radiation they will use, so that the mammary glands will be clearer on the X-ray. You will also find that the position you must stand in relation to the machine will be different, depending on the size of your implants.

4. Wear two pieces of separate clothing

Normally you have to take off the clothing covering the top part of your body and wear a hospital gown that the radiologist will provide you with. Therefore, it’s better to avoid wearing clothing such as dresses or other types of clothing that are difficult to take off.

Ideally, you should wear a buttoned shirt on the day of the exam, as it will be easy to take it off and put it on again. Not only will wearing appropriate clothing cause less hassle, but it will also save time.

So wear something practical.

5. Avoid using certain cosmetic items on your armpits

You mustn’t put any type of cosmetic product on your breasts or your armpits on the day of the exam.

This is because the use of these products could generate images on the X-ray that could confuse your doctor. This can lead to a false diagnosis.

Most importantly, we should pay special attention to products that leave residue on the skin. Examples of products are lotions, deodorants and powders.

To avoid any confusion, you can ask your doctor if the deodorant you normally use will cause a problem.

If you’re going to get your mammogram done in the evening, you can wash your armpits before the exam to avoid complications. You can then apply your deodorant after the mammogram has been completed.

6. Get yourself in a comfortable position

A woman having a mammogram.

At the beginning of your exam, allow the radiologist to position you correctly. If the position she places you in is uncomfortable, don’t hesitate to tell her this.

The position of your breasts in the machine is extremely important in order for them to be fully examined. For this to happen, you need to relax.

In fact, specialists say that any change in the position of the breasts during the exam could interfere with the results. This is why you should communicate with the radiologist, as this will allow you to find the best position for your first mammogram.

Furthermore, you should make your radiologist aware of any physical limitations you have, such as muscle stiffness, difficulties in raising your arms, among others.

If it’s impossible to place yourself in any of the correct positions for completing the exam, which rarely happens, then there are alternative ways to examine your breasts. One example is through the use of an ultrasound.

7. Only the specialist can explain your mammogram results

A specialist explaining mammogram results.

It’s essential that you know that the radiologist is the professional who is going to conduct your exam. However, they don’t have the required knowledge to interpret the results.

That said, the radiologist can tell you about the main factors that were discovered during your mammogram by using specific terms for each type of lesion.

Nonetheless, only your doctor can explain the results to you in more detail. It’s important that you don’t let any strange term that you see scare you or make you worried.

Give your doctor time to see the results and then explain them to you.

Be calm during your first mammogram

It’s normal to be nervous before your first mammogram because you don’t know what to expect.

However, if you want to be in optimal health then mammograms are inescapable. So, it’s vital to prepare yourself for this type of exam when you’re nearing the age of 40, or earlier if you’re at high risk of developing breast cancer.

Finally, you should research the things to expect from this exam and leave your worries behind. You should also talk to your doctor about when the best time is for you to do this procedure as this can differ from person to person.

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  • CDC, Centros para el Control y la Prevención de Enfermedades. ¿Qué es una mamografía?. Última modificación de la página el 11/09/2018.
  • Clínica Internacional. Consejos para la realización de una mamografía. (2016).
  • Breastcarcer.org. Técnica de la mamografía y tipos de mamografía. Última modificación 17/09/2012.