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Healthy Living Blog

Frequently Asked Questions About Mammograms

May 30, 2017 | Karen Darr


mammography exam questionsLet’s face it: Any type of medical test can heighten anxiety levels because no one likes knowing their health hangs in the balance. Whether it’s a routine test or has been prescribed by a doctor, the potential to get bad news is there.

But there’s also good news. You can remove some of those gray areas and ease your nerves by staying educated on your procedure and asking questions relative to your condition.

A mammogram is just like any other health test, and the more you know about it, the better off you are. Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about mammograms, and the answers.

Who is at risk for breast cancer?

Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women. Risk factors include age, family history of breast cancer, age of first childbirth, age of first menstruation and late menopause.

However, men are not immune to breast cancer. Exposure to estrogen, obesity or exposure to radiation, in addition to age and family history of breast cancer, are all risk factors for men.

How old should I be for my first mammogram?

For those who are of average risk, the American College of Radiology recommends beginning mammography screenings at age 40.

For those who are at a higher risk, talk to your doctor about beginning screenings earlier.

Do I need to do anything to prepare?

Yes. When you make your appointment, you will likely be given instructions, including:

  • Make your appointment for one week after your period, when your breasts are less tender.
  • Make sure your physician knows about any changes in your breasts, prior surgeries, family or personal breast cancer history and hormone use.
  • Bring to your appointment any previous mammography or sonogram results so the radiologist can make comparisons to your current screening.
  • Wear a shirt and separate bottoms rather than a dress so you only have to undress from the waist up.
  • Avoid caffeine a few days before your mammogram, as it can cause breast tenderness.
  • Do not wear deodorant, lotion or powder under your arms or on your breasts the day of your appointment, as it can cause shadows on the mammogram.
  • If you have implants, make this known when you make your appointment so the facility can prepare accordingly. They will need to be sure a technologist trained in X-raying implants is available, as the implants can hide some tissue.

How does the procedure work?

The technologist will place your breasts one at a time between two plastic plates, which will compress the breast to flatten it. This will cause you to feel pressure and discomfort for a few seconds while the images are taken. However, the flatter your breast, the better the picture. The whole procedure takes about 15 minutes from start to finish.

What about radiation exposure?

A mammogram involves a low dose of radiation to the breast during the exam. The dosage is lower than the natural level of radiation exposure the average person gets from the environment in one year.

What are the benefits of screening mammography?

The main benefit is peace of mind. Knowing where you stand is half the battle, especially if you are at a higher risk. While it can’t prevent breast cancer, it can help find it early enough to save a life. Early detection lowers your risk of dying from breast cancer by 25 to 30 percent or more, according to BreastCancer.org.

When Will I Get the Results?

Routine screening mammograms are typically read within a couple of days unless the facility is waiting for previous images from another facility for comparison. Your physician will contact you with the results. You will also receive a letter from us explaining the results by mail.

What if I am called back for a diagnostic mammogram?

If you receive a request to come back for a mammogram as the result of your first mammogram, it is called a diagnostic mammogram. This means the doctor would like to inspect more closely something that appeared on the original mammogram. Unlike in a screening mammogram, a radiologist is available to advise the technologist on imaging, so there are sufficient images to reach a conclusion. With the new 3D technology, a diagnostic follow up may only be a breast ultrasound, which is painless and does not involve radiation. An ultrasound can help determine if a suspicious area is a solid growth or a fluid-filled cyst. You also may have an MRI.

What is DBT?

Digital breast tomosynthesis (DBT) is commonly known as 3D mammography, the latest technology in women’s health. It enables the technologist to take three-dimensional images of the breast, which allows the radiologist to evaluate breast tissue layer by layer, and more easily dismiss a false positive that might otherwise be seen on a traditional mammogram.

Fisher-Titus now offers 3D digital mammography. To learn more about what makes this innovative method different from the traditional mammogram and get more mammography exam questions answered, download our guide, The Benefits of 3D Mammography. Get your peace of mind today!

The Benefits of 3D Mammography