Preparing For Your First Mammogram

Whether you're getting a diagnostic mammogram or a routine test, preparing to go for your first mammogram can be a daunting experience. Mammograms are very important screening tests, however. The American Cancer Society recommends yearly mammograms for all women age 40 and older, but your doctor may recommend you get one earlier for diagnostic purposes, or if you have a family history of breast cancer. Here's what to expect, and what you can do to prepare to make the experience less stressful.

  • Understand how mammograms are done. During the procedure, a technician will compress your breast between two plates to get an X-ray image of your compressed breast tissue. It's necessary for the technician to flatten your breasts to get a good picture of the tissue and any lumps or abnormalities. The process usually takes about 30 minutes or less, according to the Mayo Clinic.
  • Prepare for the discomfort. Some women find the mammography process uncomfortable or even painful. It's more likely you'll find it painful if you have sensitive breasts. Take an over-the-counter pain reliever before your appointment. Let the technician know if you're finding the test too painful to be still while he or she gets the images. If the pictures come out blurry due to movement, they'll have to be redone, so it's better to speak up if you're in too much pain so the technician can give you a break. 
  • Schedule your appointment well before your period. Many women's breasts get more sensitive and swollen right before and during their periods. If you can, schedule your appointment a couple of weeks before your period is due to minimize discomfort during your mammogram.
  • Dress for the test. Wear an easily-removable top and pants for your appointment, rather than a dress. This way, you'll only need to remove your top and bra to get into the gown you'll wear during your mammogram. Choose a comfortable bra in case your breasts are still tender after the test.
  • Skip the personal toiletries on the day of your mammogram. Keep your upper chest area free of powder and lotion so that the skin on and around your breasts is clean. You may be instructed not to wear deodorant the day of your mammogram as well.
  • Ask the technician when to expect your results. A radiologist will need to read the images taken by the technician to get the results that your doctor will receive. Federal regulation in the United States requires that your results be sent to your doctor within 30 days, explains the Mayo Clinic. It's likely you'll get your results much sooner -- especially if you're having a diagnostic mammogram.