Mammogram 101

Dr. Siddiky of Bon Secours is a women's health expert.During Breast Cancer Awareness Month, women are inundated with images of pink ribbons and recommendations to get a mammogram, but if you’ve never had a mammogram before, it can be intimidating. For some women, not knowing what to expect from a mammogram can be a roadblock to actually going out and getting one. Don’t let a fear of the unknown stop you from getting this important diagnostic test. Here are answers to some of the most common questions about mammograms.

What is a mammogram?

A mammogram is an x-ray image of the breast. It’s used to look for early signs of breast cancer that can be detected before a woman may notice changes on her own. A mammogram looks for signs of breast cancer, but a series of other tests is needed to confirm whether cancer is definitely present.

Why should I get a mammogram?

Mammograms are the most thorough tool a doctor has to find signs of breast cancer. Mammograms can sometimes find suspicious masses up to three years before a woman can feel it during a self breast exam. All women should do regular self breast exams, even once they reach the correct age to start getting mammograms.

Who should get a mammogram?

The Center for Disease Control recommends that women aged 50 to 74 years get a mammogram every two years, but some women may need earlier or more frequent testing depending on their medical history and whether they have a family history of breast cancer.

How does a mammogram work?

The mammogram machine will flatten the breast tissue between two plates. This is done on each breast to get a top-to-bottom view of the tissue. It is then repeated to get a side-to-side view of each breast. The technician taking the images will make sure that the scans do not need to be redone, but she cannot tell you what the results of the mammogram are. Only a specially trained doctor called a radiologist can do that.

Does a mammogram hurt?

Unfortunately, many women find mammograms to be uncomfortable, but there are steps you can take to reduce your discomfort.

  • Do not schedule a mammogram in the week before or during your period because your breasts may be more sensitive during those times.
  • Take a couple of Advil or Tylenol before the procedure.
  • Wear comfortable shoes and an outfit that includes a separate top and bottom — you’ll have to disrobe from the waist up when being scanned.
  • If you get cold easily, ask if they can warm the plates, the room, or the gown you’ll be wearing.
  • You may want to avoid eating salty foods or drinking a lot of caffeine before your mammogram, as these can cause additional tenderness when the machine compresses the breasts.
  • If you’re in pain, let your technician know. It may be possible to make adjustments to the machine and the level of pressure used.

How can I get one?

It’s easy! Talk to your primary care doctor to learn if it’s time for you to start getting mammograms. You can also visit to sign up for a mammogram now.

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