What to Expect at Your First Mammogram

Have you been putting off getting your first mammogram? For most of us, the thought of a mammogram is a little intimidating. You’ve probably heard a variety of jokes or stories related to the breast compression that occurs with a mammogram. The truth? Mammograms save lives, and that’s why they’re recommended annually for women age 40 and over. It’s important to try not to be anxious, and knowing what to expect from your first mammogram appointment may help to settle your nerves, reduce your stress, and give you more confidence.

First, let’s talk about the technical aspects of a mammogram. Mammograms use low-dose x-rays to examine breast tissue and help doctors detect abnormalities. Research has shown that mammograms find lumps that may be too small to be felt, which means cancer is caught in the very early stages when it’s most treatable. This is important because when cancer is treated early, patients tend to have much better outcomes.  

During the mammogram, there’s a pretty standard procedure that you can expect to experience.  

  • First, you’ll undress. You’ll be given a gown, and asked to undress from the waist up. Don’t wear anything scented on your body, like deodorant, lotions, oils, or perfumes, because this can interfere with the machine. You don’t want to have to come back because your lotion affected your result!
  • Once you’re in your gown, you’ll head into the exam room. In this room, it will just be you and a trained female technologist. The technologist will help you position your breasts one at a time between two plastic imaging plates, and then will take multiple images from different positions.
  • You’ll feel pressure on your breasts. The plastic imaging plates apply pressure, which spreads out the tissue so that clearer images can be captured. Because the breast tissue is spread out, less radiation is required for the imaging. This process, however, can be uncomfortable, and it’s what patients typically dread about having a mammogram. The compression; however, should never be painful.
  • This too shall pass. It’s human nature to tense up when we’re anxious about something, but it’s really important to stay relaxed so that your muscles don’t work against the machine. The whole process, including both breasts, only takes about ten minutes, so it’s not too difficult to just breathe deeply and get through it. Most patients are pleasantly surprised, and many say that the process wasn’t as bad as expected.
  • The type of mammogram determines the speed of the results. If a diagnostic mammogram was ordered because of a change in symptoms, the radiologist will review your scans while you’re there. That way if additional imaging is required, it can be requested right away. If it’s a screening mammogram, the results will usually get to your doctor in about 48 hours.

If it’s time for you to schedule a mammogram, Salem Radiology can help. Established in 1974, we are the largest radiology group in the area and offer a depth of specialization among our doctors that you would expect to find only at major university medical centers. To learn more or schedule an appointment, call (503) 399-1262 or contact us through our website.  

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