What every woman wants to know but no woman wants to ask
Scheduling your mammogram is an essential part step in taking an active role in your health – including your breast health. Whether you’re new to the mammogram, or you’ve been around the block, knowing what to expect can help you feel more comfortable as you navigate the entire process.
A mammogram identifies any changes or abnormalities in your breast tissue through a low-dose x-ray. Talk to your doctor about your optimal screening plan based on your personal risk and family history. To find out your risk, take our free breast cancer risk assessment. Result are sent straight to your inbox!
For women who are between the ages 20-40, it’s recommended to get a breast exam once every three years. Once you turn 40, you should begin scheduling your annual mammogram screening. If have a greater risk for breast cancer, talk to your doctor because you may need to start your annual mammogram earlier than 40. Find out your risk by taking our free breast cancer risk assessment.
Yes! You want your breasts to feel firm for your mammogram screening because they’re likely to feel less tender. Try and schedule your mammogram screening the week after your period or any time after menopause.
The amount of radiation exposure involved with a mammogram is minimal– even less than an X-ray. The benefits of an annual screening likely outweigh any risk involved. If you have concerns, it’s important to talk with your doctor.
There are three types of mammograms. Your doctor may recommend one of the following based on your personal risk level, health and family history.
- Screening mammogram: If you have no signs or symptoms of breast cancer, this is the standard, routine screening.
- Diagnostic mammogram: If you have a possible breast condition (ex: lump, thickening breast skin or abnormalities in breast shape or size), or if you had an abnormal screening mammogram your doctor may order a diagnostic mammogram. In comparison to a screening mammogram, a diagnostic mammogram provides a more detailed X-ray and may take longer, so be sure to allow for more time.
- 3-D mammogram:This option may provide a clearer image of breast tissue, combining multiple types of X-rays to create a three-dimensional picture of your breasts. This can be another option for women with implants, and also for women with dense breasts. Dense tissue and cancer tissue can both show up as white on a standard mammogram, leading to false-negatives. A 3-D mammogram can help give a more accurate diagnosis.
Be sure to wear a two-piece combo – either a shirt and pants or a shirt and a shirt so that you can undress from the waist up and leave on your bottoms during your mammogram screening. You’ll need to remove your top and bra.
You heard correct! We know – it’s not an ideal situation, but on the day of your mammogram screening, it’s important to avoid showering, wearing deodorant or any lotion. In almost all soaps, lotions, and antiperspirants, there are metallic particles that could show up in your X-ray. We want to avoid any confusion, so plan on showering AFTER your screening.
If you’re going to a new facility, bring any records of previous dates, images of mammograms and any other records of breast treatments you’ve had in the past.
Breast implants can make it hard to get a comprehensive look at the breast tissue during a mammogram. Your doctor may order a diagnostic or 3-D mammogram to get a more accurate diagnosis. But these types of screenings often take longer than a standard screening, so plan accordingly.
Your breasts are made up of lobules, ducts, and fatty and fibrous connective tissue. If you have a lot of fibrous or glandular tissue and not much fibrous tissue and fat, your breast tissue may be called dense. Breast density isn’t something you can see or feel on your own – and it has nothing to do with breast size or firmness. It can only be seen on mammograms.
Dense tissue and cancer tissue show up white on a standard mammogram. Because it can be hard to tell the difference between normal and abnormal breast tissue, your doctor may order a 3-D mammogram screening. Women with dense breasts also have a higher risk of developing breast cancer.
Everyone experiences pain differently. It’s normal to feel a little discomfort during your mammogram during the X-ray process from the pressure against your breasts, but this process is short – only lasting a few minutes. Your pain may vary with every mammogram you receive depending on:
- The timing of your exam in relation to your menstrual cycle
- How you’re positioned in your mammogram
If you are feeling pain, you can always ask your technician to reposition you in the X-ray to a more comfortable position.
Breast size affecting how much or how little your mammogram screening will hurt is a mammogram myth. Other factors like where you are in your cycle, and whether or not you have had caffeine can actually impact breast sensitivity. Your own perception of pain also plays a significant role.
Your technician may place stickers on your nipples and on any moles to help easily identify these markings in the imaging process.
If your doctor ordered a mammogram screening because a lump was already identified, or you have another type of cancer, you'll likely get your results much sooner. If you’re average risk and are just getting your annual preventative mammogram screening, it’s typical to not hear anything immediately.
However, if you don’t hear from your health care provider within 10 days, you should call your provider or the facility where you had your mammogram. Don’t assume that your mammogram was normal.
If your technician finds something abnormal, you will need a biopsy. Remember, just because they find something does not signify a cancer diagnosis. But this is why preventative screening is so important – early detection is key! It could be nothing to worry about, but if it is cancerous,
Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, most women age 40 and over with private health insurance are covered for annual screening mammograms. Be sure to check with your carrier to confirm screening frequency (every year or every other year) and coverage for 3-D mammograms. Medicaid also covers mammograms.
For women whose insurance has been affected by the economic impact caused by COVID-19, we have created a free service to help guide you through the coverage options available based on your unique circumstance. Learn more about our health coverage hotline. For uninsured women, there are free or low-cost programs available. Call the American Cancer Society at 1-800-227-2345 to find a program near you.