Answers to your FAQs about mammograms

October 07, 2022 | by Mansoina Baweja, M.D.

Early diagnosis is key to treating breast cancer, which is one of the many reasons why routine mammograms are important. In fact, mammograms can show changes in the breast up to two years before a patient or physician can feel them.

If you haven’t had your first mammogram yet, learn more about what to expect in our frequently asked questions listed below.

Why should I have a mammogram?

Mammograms help save lives by detecting and diagnosing breast cancer in women. Yearly mammograms can detect abnormalities early, when they are most treatable. They also help prevent the need for extensive treatment of advanced cancers and improve the chances of breast conservation by detecting cancer early.

How soon should I have a mammogram?

The decision about when and how often to get a mammogram is a personal choice you should make after talking with your doctor. Experts at the American College of Radiology (ACR) and Society of Breast Imaging (SBI) recommend that women receive an annual mammograms starting at age 40. Women at high risk for breast cancer need to begin screening earlier.

How does a mammogram work?

During a mammogram, a woman’s breast is placed on a flat support plate and compressed with a parallel plate called a paddle. This evens out the tissue and the thickness of the breast so the mammography unit can get a clear picture of the breast.

Do mammograms hurt?

Everyone experiences mammograms differently. Some women feel nothing at all, while other women are more sensitive. You can make your mammogram more comfortable by scheduling your appointment after your menstrual cycle has completed and avoiding caffeine. Consider taking an over-the-counter pain medicine like acetaminophen (Tylenol) to help ease discomfort.

Is there anything I need to do to prepare?

Avoid wearing deodorant or an antiperspirant to your appointment. Sometimes, deodorant or antiperspirants contain substances that can show up on the X-ray as white spots. Plan your outfit accordingly and wear a two-piece out (either a skirt or pair of pants), so that you’ll only need to remove your top and bra for the exam.

Do I need to bring anything to my appointment? 

If you’re going to a facility for the first time, bring a list of the places and dates of mammograms, biopsies, or other breast treatments you’ve had before.

Will I be exposed to radiation? 

Studies show the benefits of receiving a mammogram outweigh the risk of radiation exposure. While radiation during a mammogram can increase the risk of breast cancer over time, the risk is very small. 

How long does a mammogram last? 

Mammograms are typically a fast procedure and will take about 30 minutes. To relieve anxiety of waiting for results, go to a center that will give you the results before you leave.

Do I need a referral?

At Edward-Elmhurst Health, you do not need a doctor’s order to request an appointment, as long as you are age 40 or older and you do not have any symptoms or a history of breast cancer. 

Learn more about mammograms.

Schedule your annual screening mammogram today.

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