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.

Video: The Difference Between Screening and Diagnostic Mammograms | UPMC

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

Built upon our flagship, UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital in Pittsburgh, and its century-plus history of providing high-quality medical care for people at all stages of life, UPMC Magee-Womens is nationally renowned for its outstanding care for women and their families.

Our Magee-Womens network – from women’s imaging centers and specialty care to outpatient and hospital-based services – provides care throughout Pennsylvania, so the help you need is always close to home. More than 25,000 babies are born at our network hospitals each year, with 10,000 of those babies born at UPMC Magee in Pittsburgh, home to one of the largest NICUs in the country. The Department of Health and Human Services recognizes Magee in Pittsburgh as a National Center of Excellence in Women’s Health; U.S. News & World Report ranks Magee nationally in gynecology. The Magee-Womens Research Institute was the first and is the largest research institute in the U.S. devoted exclusively to women’s health and reproductive biology, with locations in Pittsburgh and Erie.


About UPMC Hillman Cancer Center

When you are facing cancer, you need the best care possible. UPMC Hillman Cancer Center provides world-class cancer care, from diagnosis to treatment, to help you in your cancer battle. We are the only comprehensive cancer center in our region, as designated by the National Cancer Institute. We have more than 70 locations throughout Pennsylvania, Ohio, and New York, with more than 200 oncologists – making it easier for you to find world-class care close to home. Our internationally renowned research team is striving to find new advances in prevention, detection, and treatment. Most of all, we are here for you. Our patient-first approach aims to provide you and your loved ones the care and support you need. To find a provider near you, visit our website.