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From Woman to Woman, What to Expect During Your First Mammogram

October 14, 2022

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, making it a good time to shine a light on the importance of regular mammograms. But what should you expect if you’ve never had a mammogram before?

Normally our blogs aren’t written from a personal perspective. But this time around, it makes sense to come to you as a woman, talking about what’s involved in a mammogram.

Last year, shortly after I turned 40, I had my first mammogram. As someone who has written and edited healthcare content for nearly 20 years, I’m well-versed in why mammograms are important

But even armed with that knowledge, experiencing anything for the first time can be a little scary! So I want to take a few minutes and walk you through what to expect when it’s your turn.

The Process of Getting a Mammogram
Here’s a general look at how it goes:

  1. When your appointment time arrives, a mammography technologist will take you into a private suite, where only the two of you are present. You will be asked to remove your shirt and your bra and given a robe to cover up.
  2. Once you’re in the imaging suite, don’t worry about being in the wrong position or doing the wrong thing. The mammography technician has done this before! He or she will move you into the correct position to capture the necessary images of your breast tissue.
  3. Your breasts will be positioned carefully on a “shelf” and then smooshed. I won’t lie—these positions aren’t super comfy. Having your breast tissue compacted is as comfortable as you’d imagine. But the process moves quickly, so you won’t need to hold in those positions for too long. 
  4. The number of images captured during the mammogram will depend on a number of factors, including the specific type of mammogram you’re having. In my case, because I have a family history of dense breasts, which can make it harder to spot cancer on a mammogram, I chose to have a 3D mammogram. This type of mammogram, also called breast tomosynthesis, captures a larger number of images of the breasts, which allows the radiologists to see the breasts in 3D. 
  5. When the mammogram is complete, your technologist will tell you when to expect the results. In my case, the radiologist reviewed the images by the end of the day, so my OB/GYN’s office had the results the next day and shared them with me. Within a couple days, I also had a letter from the radiologist’s office, sharing those results and letting me know that I have dense breasts. If you have dense breasts, like millions of American women, your OB/GYN may recommend 3D mammograms or other screening tools to help protect your health in the future.

Tips for Making the Mammogram Easier
If you’re preparing to undergo your first mammogram, chat with your OB/GYN or another trusted medical provider. Your provider can offer valuable perspective about where to undergo the procedure, send through a referral when necessary for insurance purposes, and talk through what type of screening you should have.

Make the process easier on yourself by wearing comfortable clothing on the day of your mammogram. Since you will be removing your shirt and bra for the imaging scan, choose items that are easy to take on and off.

You may also be advised about particulars prior to your appointment, like not wearing lotion or deodorant to your mammogram. Be sure to carefully pay attention to those guidelines.

Because a little discomfort is possible during the procedure, some providers recommend taking an anti-inflammatory medication like ibuprofen an hour or so before your appointment. I’ll be doing that before my mammogram this year.

It’s unlikely that any woman anywhere would tell you that a mammogram is something she’s excited about. But while mammograms aren’t something we look forward to, they provide an essential tool in the fight against breast cancer.

The earlier that breast cancer is detected, the easier it is to treat—and in many cases, eradicate. So, if you’re due for a mammogram, don’t put it off! Consider this your sign to get it on the schedule today.

Wondering when you should have your first mammogram and how often you need one? An OB/GYN can answer your questions. Schedule an appointment today with Robert Chin, MD, PhD, or other providers at West Tennessee Medical Group Women’s Health