What is a Mammogram?

Women in all stages of life should know what to expect from a mammogram and work with their doctor to put together a personalized mammogram schedule. Everyone is different. Here are a few things you should know about mammograms so you can make the decisions that are best for you.

What is a mammogram?

A mammogram is an X-ray taken of each breast that can be used to screen an asymptomatic breast for abnormalities or used as part of the diagnosis process to investigate changes in the breast such as a lump, pain, unusual skin appearance, nipple thickening or nipple discharge.  

How often should you have a mammogram?

Medical experts have differing opinions on how often women should schedule their mammograms. Most, including the American Cancer Society, recommend mammograms every year for women starting at age 40.  If you have a history of breast cancer in your family or other risk factors, your physician may suggest you begin having mammograms before the age of 40.

What can you expect from a mammogram and how should you prepare?

Each breast is pressed between two hard plates to spread out the breast tissue. This is necessary in order to obtain the clearest images. Then several pictures from different angles are taken of each breast. The compression is done as gently as possible but there may be some discomfort. It is a good idea to schedule a mammogram when your breasts are least tender (after the menstrual cycle), and you may want to take an over-the-counter pain medication about an hour before the mammogram to ease discomfort. 

Do not use deodorants, perfumes or creams on your breasts or under your arms prior to the test, since metallic particles can show up in the images and cause confusion. Wearing a two-piece outfit makes it easier to change into the dressing gown for the X-ray.

Regardless of your age, it’s never too early to discuss breast health with your physician. Education and early detection and treatment go a long way toward prevention and treatment.