What can you expect at your first mammogram?

Walking into your first mammogram can be scary when you aren’t sure what to expect. Fortunately, with preparation, you can take steps to make your procedure a little bit easier.

Read on for everything you should know to make your first appointment a comfortable experience.

Learn more about the comprehensive breast cancer treatment program at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center. 

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What Is a Mammogram?

Typically, the first step in detecting cancer is the clinical breast exam your doctor performs. Mammograms are needed because they can show things that are going on inside the breast that cannot be seen or felt from the outside. Mammograms can help detect breast diseases and breast cancer.

A mammogram is a picture of your breast that uses x-ray imaging to detect abnormalities in your breast tissue. Mammograms are the best way to catch breast cancer before a woman begins experiencing symptoms or cancer has progressed.

Preparing for Your First Mammogram

What should you expect during your first mammogram?

  • First, you’ll have to remove both your shirt and bra so the technician can take an accurate image of the breast tissue.
  • Make sure you haven’t applied any lotions or deodorant.
  • The technologist will place your breast on a platform, and lower an imaging paddle onto it, smoothing out your breast.

The entire procedure lasts about 30 minutes. If the radiologist sees abnormalities, he or she will refer you for additional tests, like a diagnostic mammogram.

Diagnostic Mammograms vs. Screening Mammograms

Diagnostic mammograms include more focused, in-depth imaging from various angles of your breast to get a fuller picture of the tissue and any abnormalities. Diagnostic mammograms often take more time than screening mammograms.

Don’t be alarmed if you’re referred for a diagnostic mammogram. It’s a common practice to recommend a diagnostic mammogram when more information is needed or if there’s a benign abnormality.

You may also be referred directly for a diagnostic mammogram if you’re experiencing symptoms of breast cancer.

Signs and symptoms of breast cancer include:

  • A lump in your breast
  • Discharge from your nipples
  • Thickening of your breast skin
  • Dimpling or puckering of your breast tissue
  • Changes in your breast shape or size

What to Know Before You Go

Talk to your doctor about when you should have your first mammogram. Most baseline mammograms are performed at 40. Screening mammograms are then performed annually unless there is an issue with your breast tissue.

RELATED: Your Checkup Checklist: 7 Questions to Ask Your Doctor

Here’s what you should expect:

  • You will have to remove your blouse, bra, and other clothing items. This is the only way the technician can get a full picture of the breast.
  • Don’t use deodorant, powders, or lotions before a mammogram. Any small metallic particles may be visible on the imaging and can cause abnormal results.
  • If you experience pain during the procedure, let the technician know, and he or she will work to make it less uncomfortable

The best advice is to be prepared. Should an abnormality be found, you’ll be scheduled for a diagnostic mammogram.

For more information about breast cancer diagnostics, please contact Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC.

About UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital

For more than a century, UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital has provided high-quality medical care to women at all stages of life. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recognizes Magee as a National Center of Excellence in Women’s Health. More than 9,000 babies are born each year at Magee. The hospital also treats men for a variety of conditions, including surgical treatment. The Magee-Womens Research Institute was the first center to focus research only on conditions involving women and their infants.