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February 24, 2022

What to expect during your first mammogram

Women's Health Mammograms

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Turning 40 is considered a milestone birthday — you’re not too old and you’re not too young. It’s the official start of mid-adulthood, and with that comes a greater emphasis on making your health and well-being a priority.

For women, it’s a time to start thinking about breast cancer prevention. Breast cancer is the second most common type of cancer for women, as well as the second leading cause of death. Fortunately, mammograms can detect early signs of breast cancer when it’s easier to treat. The American Cancer Society recommends an annual mammogram starting at the age of 45. If you’re at higher risk for breast cancer, you should consider getting the test done as early as 40 years old.

Mammograms — especially the first one — can be an anxiety-inducing experience. The best way to overcome that hesitation is to know what to expect. Here are answers to some of the most common questions about receiving a mammogram.

What is a mammogram?

Mammograms are X-ray images of your breasts. Doctors use this test to look for signs of cancer and other changes in the breast tissue. During the procedure, each breast is placed between two surfaces and then firmly pressed flat while the X-ray machine takes the images. The test typically takes no longer than 15 minutes to complete.

Does a mammogram hurt?

Most people find the test to be slightly uncomfortable, but the degree of discomfort differs from person to person. The plates used to spread out the breast tissue for imaging may be cold or slightly uncomfortable when fully pressed, but that will only last a few seconds.

What are the risks?

Like any X-ray, getting a mammogram exposes your body to a very small amount of radiation. However, the benefits of screening for cancer far outweigh the risks of the radiation exposure.

When do you get the results?

Mammograms are reviewed by a radiologist and the results are then shared with your doctor. If the results are normal, you’ll receive them within a few weeks of the test. Abnormal results are communicated faster so your doctor can order a diagnostic mammogram and other tests. Waiting for the results can be stressful, but a longer wait is typically a good sign.

How do you prepare for the test?

Breasts are most tender during and right before your period, so you may want to schedule your mammogram based on your menstrual cycle to reduce discomfort during the test. Avoid wearing any deodorant, lotions, or perfume as these substances can show up on the X-ray images and cause confusion.

While they may be unpleasant, mammograms can be a life-saving tool. The stress of the exam and its pending results will give way to serious relief — especially if it means catching breast cancer in its earliest stages.

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