Why Are Mammograms Important?
Mammograms are essential screenings for breast cancer. These X-ray tests are crucial for detecting and treating the disease early. How often this imaging should be done depends on a woman’s age and individual risk factors. Consider these 3 tips for preparing for the first mammogram appointment.
1. Choosing the facility
If there is a choice, aim to find a facility that specializes in mammogram X-ray imaging. These locations do multiple tests daily and are experts in the field. If possible, women should opt to go to the same facility each year so that technicians and doctors can easily compare the images over time.
2. What to wear and what to avoid
Most facilities will offer a list of guidelines to prepare for the appointment. Avoid wearing deodorant or antiperspirant, as these products can sometimes show up as white spots on the X-ray. If needed, consider bringing deodorant to apply after the exam. Because women need to undress from the waist up, wearing a skirt or pants may be more comfortable than wearing a dress to the appointment.
3. Communicating with your technologist
The technologist doing the mammogram should know about any recent breast changes or problems. Also, be sure to communicate any relevant details regarding medical history, such as family risk, surgery, or hormonal changes. Before any test, make sure the healthcare provider is aware of any possible pregnancy or breastfeeding.
What to expect
During the test, a technologist will position the woman’s breasts on the machine. The breasts will need to be compressed for a few seconds to get an accurate picture. Then the woman will need to change positions for another image. Typically, the whole process only takes about 20 minutes, and compression only lasts for a few seconds each time.
Average risk vs. high risk
Women who have an average risk of breast cancer may choose to start screening mammograms at age 40. Most experts recommend beginning between the ages of 45-50. Women can consult with a healthcare provider regarding when the appropriate time is to start getting mammograms. Women who have a family history of breast cancer or have a history of breast lesions can benefit from starting screening mammograms around age 40. These women should also consult with a healthcare provider for individual recommendations.
What else should I know?
Many women fear the discomfort of a mammogram. However, the benefits of these screenings far outweigh the risks. Only 2-4 screening mammograms out of 1,000 lead to a breast cancer diagnosis. However, for those that do lead to a diagnosis, the result is earlier and better treatment of cancer. For more information, speak with a healthcare provider.