When and how often should you get a mammogram?
Until recently, recommendations were for women to get screening mammograms beginning at age 40. Recently, the American Cancer Society has said that women can wait until age 45 to start getting annual mammograms and cut back to every other year once they turn 55. Still, they should have the option to get a mammogram beginning at age 40.
When you get a mammogram, is a personal decision that should be made based on your doctor’s recommendations and your personal medical history. Be aware, that you don’t need to get one as early or as often as it was recommended in the past.
I recently had my first mammogram at age 42.
Why did I decide to have a screening mammogram before age 45?
- My doctor recommended it and I trust her.
- I have seen what happens when cancer isn’t caught early.
- I’m very aware of false positives and won’t get stressed out if initial tests results are unclear.
Planning to get a mammogram? Here are some tips:
- It’s a good idea to have your mammogram at the same facility and at the same time of year so images can easily be compared from year to year.
- If you’ve had a mammogram in the past and then, get a mammogram someplace new, either bring your records with you or have them sent to the new facility. That way the older pictures can be compared with the new ones.
- Avoid scheduling your mammogram the week prior to your period to avoid swollen tender breasts. This will reduce discomfort and you will get better images.
You might be offered 2 types of mammograms
2D Mammograms are the usual mammogram. They are covered by most health insurances and will do a good job of screening.
3D Mammograms are clearer and more detailed. Most insurances DON’T cover 3D mammograms, so if you would like one, be prepared to pay out of pocket. Also, there is no evidence that the new 3D mammograms save more lives than the traditional 2D mammograms. Be aware, though, that they are available.
The day of your mammogram
- Don’t wear any lotions, antiperspirants or perfumes. They can show up on the image.
- Be sure to let the technician know if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, as well as any changes in your breasts.
What to expect
You will be given a gown and asked to undress from the waist up.
The technician will position one breast on the machine’s plastic plate. Then she will lower another plastic plate, compressing your breast. This will be done horizontally, and then diagonally, ensuring the image includes tissue that goes into your armpit. The diagonal compression does pinch a bit, but overall, the procedure doesn’t hurt and lasts only seconds.
That being said, don’t be surprised if your breasts feel tender the next day.
If you have breast implants or large breasts, they may take more than the usual two images per breast.
What if you are called back after your mammogram?
Most of the time, you will be notified by the radiologist or your doctor that your mammogram was normal. Sometimes, you will be notified within 5 days that they would like to take more images. This is called a diagnostic mammogram. That may sound scary, but try not to worry.
Usually, this is nothing to be alarmed by. You may have a cyst or noncancerous tumor. The image may have been unclear or shown dense tissue that the radiologist wants a better look at.
During a diagnostic mammogram, more images will be taken than at a screening mammogram. You may also have an ultrasound done. or other imaging.
Get a mammogram
If it’s time for you to get a mammogram, don’t put it off. It’s better to get it out of the way than to find out too late that something is wrong. You will sleep better knowing you are in good health.
I am an author, writer, and speaker and homeschooling mom of 3. Since my husband, Dan was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer in 2012, I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness.
My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.
My book Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer, is available on Amazon.com