A mammogram is a test that uses low-dose X-rays to examine breast tissue. It’s typically used to detect changes associated with various breast conditions, including breast cancer.
Mammograms are an important tool for detecting breast cancer early. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends most women to have a screening mammogram every 1 to 2 years beginning at 40 years old.
If it’s your first time having a mammogram, you may have several questions about how to prepare. You may also be curious about what you can expect from the test.
This article will cover:
- what to do the night before a mammogram
- what to avoid
- what you can expect throughout the process
It’s not necessary to fast before having a mammogram. However, it may be a good idea to avoid certain types of foods or drinks that may contribute to breast pain or tenderness.
Caffeine can be found in:
- soft drinks
- energy drinks
- foods that are flavored with coffee or chocolate
When you’re going in for a mammogram, it’s important to avoid wearing skin care products in the area of your underarms or chest. Some of these products include:
This is because many of these products contain ingredients, particularly aluminum, that can affect the X-ray images produced during a mammogram. Basically, particles from skin care products can mimic calcifications on an X-ray.
Because of this, when calcifications show up on a mammogram, your doctor will want to investigate them further. This often involves additional imaging tests.
Therefore, wearing skin care products can potentially lead to additional, unnecessary testing. If you’re concerned about skin care products and your mammogram, try following some of the tips below:
- Schedule your mammogram in the morning, if possible, so that you don’t have to go as long without your skin care products.
- The night before your mammogram (or the morning of), be extra thorough in cleaning the area around your underarms and chest to remove any lingering particles from skin care products.
- Pack your deodorant or antiperspirant to bring with you to the testing center. That way, you can apply it as soon as your mammogram is over.
It’s typically not necessary to take pain medication prior to your mammogram. While the exam may cause some discomfort or pain, it is very brief.
If you’re concerned about experiencing pain during or after your mammogram, taking an over-the-counter (OTC) pain medication or a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) may help. Some examples include:
Another suggestion that may help is to avoid scheduling your mammogram the week before your menstrual period is due. Your breasts may be more tender during this time.
Now let’s go over what to expect on the day of your mammogram and beyond.
When you arrive
After arriving at the testing center, you’ll check in with the receptionist and may be asked to complete a pre-exam questionnaire. You’ll wait in the waiting room until you’re called back for your exam.
Next, you’ll be taken to a private area where you’ll be asked to undress from the waist up. You’ll be given a gown or wrap that opens in the front to cover the upper part of your body.
It’s best to wear either pants or a skirt on the day of your mammogram, instead of a dress or one-piece outfit. That way, it’ll be easy to just remove your top and bra for the exam.
During the exam
When you’re taken to the room where your exam will be performed, be sure to tell the technician about any breast changes or areas of concern. This will help them to get the best quality images possible.
During a mammogram, you’ll stand in front of a special type of X-ray machine. The technician will gently place one of your breasts between two flat plates that are attached to the machine.
These plates will then compress to flatten your breast. This compression helps the X-ray machine get a clearer picture of your breast tissue. You may feel a squeezing, pressing, or pinching sensation during this time.
The X-ray machine will then be used to take images of your breast tissue. Typically, images of two different views of the breast are taken. The technician will review these images to make sure that they’re clear and do not need to be retaken.
The technician will then repeat the process with your other breast. Overall, the entire exam typically takes about 20 minutes.
After your exam, you’ll be taken back to a private area so that you can get dressed. The staff will inform you when you can leave the testing center.
After the radiologist has evaluated the images from your mammogram, they’ll prepare a full report of your results. These will then be sent to your doctor.
The amount of time it takes to get your results may vary. You can ask the staff at the testing center when you should expect your mammogram results to get a closer estimate.
Some centers may provide results right away, while others may take several days. A good rule of thumb is to contact your doctor or the testing center if you haven’t heard anything in 10 days.
Receiving your results
If the results of your mammogram show any concerning tissue changes, you may be called back for additional imaging tests. These may include:
In fact, according to the American Cancer Society, fewer than 1 in 10 women who come back for follow-up testing actually have breast cancer.
Mammograms use X-ray images to view your breast tissue. They can help detect breast changes that may be due to breast cancer or other issues.
It’s important to avoid using skin care products before your mammogram, as they may appear as calcifications on the X-rays. These may be mistaken for potentially cancerous breast changes, leading to unnecessary worry and additional testing.
While a mammogram can be uncomfortable, the pain or discomfort you’ll feel is typically very brief. You can help to reduce discomfort by avoiding foods or drinks that may cause breast tenderness or by taking OTC pain medication or a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID).
The time that it takes to get your results can vary by testing center. Be sure to ask about when you should expect your results, and don’t hesitate to follow-up if you haven’t heard anything by 10 days after your mammogram.