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Here’s What Happens When You Get a Mammogram

  • Category: LiveSmart
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graphic of doctor showing mammogram to woman

Not sure what to expect at your next mammogram? Here's the scoop.

Mammograms are one of the best ways to protect yourself from breast cancer. Although they can't stop breast cancer from occurring, this diagnostic test often detects cancer before a lump is felt or you experience other symptoms. By finding breast cancer early if it is present, you have the best chance of treating it successfully.

Some women avoid getting mammograms because they think it is uncomfortable or just don't know what to expect. They may be scared of what it will feel like or are uneasy about the process. Knowing what will happen during a mammogram can make for a more comfortable and less fearful experience. That's important because these screening tests are an important part of taking care of your health.

What happens when you get a mammogram?

When you get to the facility where you'll have your mammogram, you'll first have to undress and will be given a gown to wear. This makes it easier for the technologist to access your breasts for the screening. You and the technologist will be the only ones in the room during the exam and you will have privacy when you undress.

During the mammogram, you will stand in front of a large machine that takes x-rays of your breast. The technologist will place your breasts (one at a time) on a plate connected to the machine. They will also position your arms in a certain way so they can get a clear image of the breast.

Once in position, an upper plate will be lowered on top of your breast and will compress it while the image is taken. This can be a bit uncomfortable, but the compression only lasts for about 10 to 15 seconds per image. If the discomfort is more than you can tolerate, let the technologist know because she may be able to reposition you.

A few images will be taken at different angles, so you will need to repeat this process. The entire screening takes about 20 minutes. Once the technologist has taken all images needed, you will be ready to get dressed and go about the rest of your day.

How do you prepare for a mammogram?

There's not much you have to do before a mammogram other than to show up for your appointment. It's best to schedule your appointment when your breasts aren't likely to be tender, such as the week before your period. Try to go to the same facility as you've gone to before if this is not your first time so your images can be compared to previous mammograms. If you're going somewhere new, bring your images from previous facilities or have them sent for comparison.

On the day of your mammogram, don't apply powder, lotion, cream, deodorant, antiperspirant or perfumes on or around your breasts or underarms. These can show up as spots on the x-ray.

If you are concerned about experiencing pain during your mammogram, you may want to take an over-the-counter pain reliever, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, about an hour before.

Tell the technologist about any symptoms you may be experiencing. Also let them know if you have breast implants, are breastfeeding or think you might be pregnant.

If fear is keeping you from having a mammogram, remind yourself of the peace of mind it will give you to know that you've done what you can to keep yourself healthy. Any pain or discomfort you may feel goes away quickly but the benefits of being screened last a long time.

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Date Last Reviewed: August 17, 2023

Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor

Medical Review: Perry Pitkow, MD

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