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Your First Mammogram: What to Expect

POSTED BY: Florida Hospital

The mammo, the myth, the legend. Every woman knows about it, but not every woman knows exactly what to expect if you’ve never done it before. And when your doctor tells you that it’s time for your first mammogram, it may be slightly nerve wracking as you contemplate this rite of passage.

Whether you are approaching the age of 40, or have a higher risk related to a family history of breast cancer, it’s normal to have a little apprehension about scheduling your first mammogram appointment. To ease your mind, our very own Amy Campbell, MD, radiologist at Florida Hospital, provides some helpful information as you take this important step in your health journey.

Take Control of Your Breast Health

It’s human nature. We all do it. You have something you’ve been told to do for your health, but you just keep putting it off. Deep down in your heart, you know it’s important. You know it could save your life.

And you know that more than likely, you don’t have much to worry about, but fear or apprehension, or maybe misconceptions, turn your mental “do it” switch to “pause.” When it comes to your mammogram, though, Dr. Campbell says to dig deep and get it done.

She explains, “Mammograms are proven to save lives — it’s the best tool we have to monitor a woman’s breasts over time and detect any changes early so that we can identify and treat breast cancer in its earliest stages and increase chances of survival.”

Mammograms are Not Painful

“I find that a big reason women tend to delay their mammogram is because they have a preconceived notion about it being very painful. There might be very minimal amount of discomfort for a very short time, but a mammogram should not be painful,” Dr. Campbell clarifies.

If possible, Dr. Campbell recommends to avoid scheduling your mammogram the week before your menstrual cycle is expected to begin, because the surge in hormones during this time can make the breasts more tender. She emphasizes, “Even during this time, a mammogram should not be painful — it just might be slightly more uncomfortable, so don’t let this delay you in getting your mammogram.”

She also adds that the mammogram technologists and staff at Florida Hospital centers take every step to make a woman’s mammogram experience positive and comfortable. In fact, Florida Hospital imaging centers have adopted mammogram equipment that is designed to increase the comfort of mammograms, and advanced technology to enhance the quality of images with the goal to reduce call backs for more imaging.

What Doctors Are Looking For

After your mammogram, a radiologist, like Dr. Campbell will evaluate your images. 

“I look for different types of changes in breast tissue, which include calcifications, masses, and other suspicious areas that could be signs of cancer,” she says.

If it’s your first mammogram, your radiologist will not have any prior images as comparisons, so it is possible that you could get a call back for more images to be taken. Don’t panic. Most findings end up being benign.

Know Your Mammogram Schedule

Sometimes, fear percolates when we simply don’t know what to expect. The best way to overcome this is to arm yourself with the right information to prepare, both mentally and physically.

“Mammogram guidelines can be confusing for women. They are always changing and there are a few different organizations that offer varying guidelines. This is why it’s so important for every woman to discuss her breast cancer risk and when to begin screening mammography with her primary care physician or OB/GYN,” recommends Dr. Campbell.

Many factors determine when you should have a mammogram, such as your family history, risk factors and age. Florida Hospital for Women recommends that women get screening mammograms every year, starting at age 40. Any woman over the age of 30 should have a diagnostic mammogram if any unusual breast symptoms — such as a lump, pain, nipple thickening or discharge —or a change in breast size or shape are detected.

Dr. Campbell concludes, “If patients have questions about when to start having a mammogram or how often they should get them, I always encourage them to talk to their physician for reassurance. It’s never too early to start that dialogue with your doctor and plan for your future health.”

We want to make it easier for you to get that first mammogram. If you are age 40 and over, have not had any breast symptoms, and have not had a mammogram in the last year, you do not need a physician’s order to get a screening mammogram. Learn more about how to schedule your mammogram today