Going for Your Mammogram
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Cancer Society (ACS) agree: Mammograms are the best way to find breast cancer early, while it’s smaller and easier to treat. Many tumors that are too small to be felt are found by mammograms.
Currently, the CDC recommends women ages 50 to 74 get a mammogram every 2 years. But the ACS suggests yearly screening for all women ages 45 to 54, while those ages 55 and older can continue yearly screenings or switch to a mammogram every 2 years. Talking with your healthcare provider about your individual risk factors can help determine when to start and how often to get a mammogram.
What to expect
Mammograms are simply low-dose X-rays of the breasts. Conventional mammograms—which stored the images on film—have been replaced with digital mammograms in the U.S. These images are now stored as a computer file. As a result, they can be enlarged or enhanced as needed, and they’re easily shared among your healthcare team.
A technician will arrange your breast on a plastic plate. A second plate will lower for a few seconds to compress your breast while the X-ray is being taken.
Usually, 2 X-rays are made of each breast. Afterward, you’ll need to wait to dress until the technologist checks to make sure the images are clear. The whole process takes about 20 minutes. Typically, you’ll get the results within a few weeks.
Your role in screening
Here’s what you can do to help ensure a smooth screening process:
If possible, select a facility that specializes in mammograms.
Try not to schedule your mammogram for the week before your period or during your period, when breasts may be more tender.
On the day of your mammogram, don't apply lotions, powders, creams, deodorant, or perfume under or on your breasts or underarms.
Wear pants or a skirt rather than a dress. This will make it easier to remove your bra and shirt for the exam.
Be sure to tell the technician if you have breast implants, are breastfeeding, or may be pregnant.