During Breast Cancer Awareness Month, mammography technologist Jodi Hooven, with Breast Health Services at Lehigh Valley Hospital–Hecktown Oaks, shares everything you need to know about this important screening test:
Tips for Your Annual Mammogram
Learn about do’s and don'ts for this lifesaving screening test
Women and others who were born biologically female who are age 40 and older should get a screening mammogram once a year, even if they are not experiencing any concerning symptoms.
However, if you are at higher risk for breast cancer due to family history or a personal history of certain breast diseases, you may be qualified to start annual screenings at an earlier age.
“If you have questions about when you should start getting mammograms, especially if you have a family history of breast cancer or a known genetic mutation that can increase your risk, talk to your primary care doctor for their recommendation,” Hooven says.
What to expect
During your mammogram, your breasts (one at a time) will be pressed between two plates while a series of images is taken.
“The entire appointment often takes less than 30 minutes,” Hooven says. “The mammogram itself takes about 10 minutes, with each image taking about eight to 12 seconds.”
At Lehigh Valley Topper Cancer Institute, your images are later reviewed by a breast imaging radiologist and the results are sent to you both via MyLVHN, your patient portal, and by mail. Your primary care doctor and/or gynecologist will also be sent your results, and if an area of concern is identified, you will be contacted to set up a follow up appointment.
While the test is known to be uncomfortable, most people do not find it painful.
“A lot of my patients are worried that their mammogram is going to hurt badly or that I am going to compress their breasts as thin as possible, but that’s not the case,” Hooven says. “Mammography machines have come a long way over the last 30 years of my career, and they are a lot more comfortable than the ones our grandmothers used to tell us about.”
If you are experiencing pain during your mammogram, or if you did during a previous one, you should let your mammography technologist know.
“If you have a history of breast sensitivity or if you start having pain during your mammogram, we don’t want you to grin and bear it,” Hooven says. “Your technologist will be able to make sure the machine is working properly and that your breast is positioned correctly, and also may have options for making your experience more comfortable, like MammoPad® cushions.”
- If it’s your first time getting a mammogram at a new facility but you’ve had screenings done in the past, either bring your records to your appointment or tell the facility where to request them from. This helps the new facility compare previous images to your latest ones, which is very important.
- If your breast tissue is more sensitive during menstruation, Hooven recommends scheduling your mammogram about 10 days after the start of your period (if possible).
- Some people find that cutting back on caffeine before their mammograms helps reduce discomfort. If you want to try this, Hooven recommends not consuming caffeinated beverages for at least a week beforehand.
- Getting a mammogram is making an investment in yourself, and for that, you deserve a little fun. Hooven recommends going out to eat, going shopping, or doing something else you enjoy to celebrate yourself before or after your appointment. “If you can schedule your screening mammogram with a friend at the same place around the same time, that’s great too,” she says.
- If you are pregnant or nursing, you should not get a mammogram. Be sure to speak to your primary care physician or gynecologist about the timing of your next screening.
- It is best to forgo deodorant, powder and lotion under your breasts and arms on the day of your appointment. This is because metallic particles in these products can show up as false findings/artifacts on mammograms.
- If you are experiencing any breast cancer symptoms (a lump, a nipple that turns inward, discharge from your nipples that is not breast milk, breast skin that has dimpling similar to an orange peel or breast swelling), don’t wait until your annual screening mammogram. Talk to your doctor about scheduling a diagnostic mammogram, which unlike a screening mammogram, provides additional evaluation and same-day results.