How to prep for a mammogram

| Patient Education

For women over 40, having regular mammograms is an important part of managing your health. A mammogram can help detect breast cancer early on when it’s most treatable. About one in eight women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime, and getting regular mammograms can reduce your risk of dying from breast cancer with early diagnosis and treatment.

Patient receiving a mammogram

What is a mammogram?

A mammogram is an X-ray of the breast used to detect signs of breast cancer or other problems. Breast cancer is the second most common type of cancer among women in the U.S., and early detection can reduce your risk.

During a mammogram, a machine will take X-rays of your breasts. The machine will compress your breasts for a few seconds, which can be uncomfortable, but it’s important to stay still to get clear images. The procedure takes about 20 minutes.

Screening mammograms are routine X-rays of the breast and are recommended for women who are at average risk of breast cancer and have no symptoms.

Diagnostic mammograms are more extensive X-rays of the breast used to investigate any abnormalities found during a screening mammogram or to evaluate symptoms such as lumps, pain, or nipple discharge. Diagnostic mammograms may also use ultrasound or MRI to help diagnose breast problems.

When a mammogram is needed

The American Cancer Society recommends women over age 40 get mammograms every 1–2 years, but some people may need to start getting mammograms sooner depending on their individual risk factors.

When you should get a mammogram may depend on your age, your family history, your personal risk, and your preferences. Talk with your doctor about the best screening schedule for you.

How to prepare for a mammogram

There are a few things you can do to prepare for a mammogram:

  • Schedule your mammogram when your breasts aren’t tender or swollen (usually the week after your period).
  • Avoid wearing deodorant, antiperspirant, lotion, or powder the day of your mammogram. These products can show up on the X-ray and make it harder to see any abnormalities.
  • Wear a two-piece outfit so you can easily undress from the waist up and slip on the provided gown.
  • Bring a list of any medications you’re taking.
Nurse assists a patient through her mammogram

Recovering from a Mammogram

After your mammogram, you may feel some mild discomfort in your breasts from them being placed on plastic plates for several X-ray images of the tissue to be taken. This is normal and should go away within a few days. Talk to your doctor if you experience any pain or swelling that doesn’t go away.

You’ll receive the results of your mammogram within a few weeks. If your results are normal, that means no signs of cancer or other problems were found, and you should continue getting regular mammograms based on the schedule your doctor recommends. If your results are abnormal, you may not have cancer, but additional tests may be needed to confirm the diagnosis.

Schedule a Screening

Mammograms are an important tool for early breast cancer detection. If you’re over the age of 40, talk to your doctor about getting a mammogram and the screening schedule that’s best for you.

By getting regular mammograms, you can help take care of your health. The appointments should take approximately 20-30 minutes, a small amount of time for a screening that could help you live a lifetime. Breast cancer is treatable when caught early, so schedule your mammogram today.

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Doctor Amanda Dick

About the Author

Amanda M. Dick MD

Dr. Amanda Dick is a surgeon with Schneck Surgical Associates.