Preparing for Your First Mammogram

By Lance Dillon, M.D.
Ocean Medical Center

More women than ever are surviving breast cancer. That good news could be even better if more women had regular mammograms. But if you've never had a mammogram, you may be unsure about when to start and what to expect.

Doctors generally agree that mammograms are the best way to find breast tumors early, while they're smaller and easier to treat. Many tumors that are too small to be felt during a breast self-exam are found by mammograms.

The recommendations for when to start screening and how often to be screened vary, so it's important to seek your doctor's advice. "You should talk with your doctor about your individual risk factors," says Lance Dillon, M.D., a board certified radiologist at Ocean Medical Center and part of Meridian Cancer Care. "That can help determine when to start and how often to get mammograms."

Choose a facility that specializes in women's health care services for your mammogram. Avoid scheduling the appointment during the week before your period, when breasts are more tender. The process will be more comfortable and produce a better image.Check beforehand for special instructions. Be sure to mention if you have breast implants, or are pregnant or breastfeeding.

"Mammograms usually take about 20 minutes," Dr. Dillon says. "You'll need to disrobe above the waist, so wear a skirt, shorts, or pants. Don't use deodorant, perfume, lotion, or powder under your arms or on your breasts the day of your mammogram. They can cloud the picture."

A technician will arrange your breast on a metal plate. A plastic second plate will lower for a few seconds to compress your breast while the X-ray is being taken.

Usually, two 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. You should be notified within a week if the mammogram shows an abnormality.