Health & Wellness

Preparing for a Mammogram: Everything You Should Know

Oct. 18, 2022

Getting your first mammogram is a rite of passage for women and is a huge step in taking ownership of your breast health.

Mammography is not perfect, and it will not catch all breast cancers, but it is the only research-proven imaging study to find these cancers, with an 80% chance of success. With a screening mammogram, 15 minutes of your time can save your life.

Breast Cancer Screening Guidelines Explained

Breast cancer screening guidelines vary widely among professional societies, which can be frustrating and confusing for patients. To keep it simple, when women begin regular screening mammograms at the age of 40, they have the greatest chance of catching cancer and saving their life. 

Ever since the American Cancer Society began recommending annual screening mammography at the age of 40—in combination with improved cancer treatments, the overall death rate from breast cancer has decreased by 40%. Women who are at an increased risk for breast cancer, such as those who have a family history of the disease, a genetic mutation or women of African American descent, should begin screening sooner. 

Routine screening mammograms are important for many reasons. For women, establishing a normal expectation for your breast imaging will help when breast changes occur, as you and your healthcare provider will have a point of comparison. Additionally, early detection is critical for the successful treatment of breast cancer. The earlier breast cancer is caught, the better the chance of successful treatment.

The Advantage of 3D Mammograms for Breast Cancer Screening

Breast tomosynthesis, or a 3D mammogram, is the most preferred type of mammogram, as they find more cancers than a standard 2D mammogram. At UC Health, both 2D and 3D mammograms are offered.

Because 3D mammograms take multiple images of the breast, the radiologist, who is the physician interpreting your mammogram images, can view the breast like flipping through the pages of a book. A 2D mammogram is a single picture, like a closed book, where all the pages overlap, making it difficult to see some breast tissue.

“It’s been proven that 3D mammograms have detected more breast cancers and at earlier stages,” Rifat Wahab, DO, assistant professor of radiology specializing in breast imaging at UC Health said.

Women are given the option of a 2D or 3D mammogram at the time of their appointment and are encouraged to get a 3D mammogram.

How Long Does a Mammogram Take?

A screening mammogram will take 15 minutes to take the pictures, but patients should anticipate being at the appointment for approximately 30 minutes. Typically, it takes 24 to 48 hours for results. If a patient has prior mammograms at another hospital or breast center, it’s important to receive those for comparison, as this will help in getting the most accurate results.

How Will I Get My Mammogram Results?

Patients can receive results three ways—in the mail, electronically through MyChart or from their primary care provider. At UC Health, all breast imaging is read by breast imaging experts—our fellowship-trained breast radiologists only do breast imaging. These physicians have completed additional training to subspecialize in breast imaging and intervention, which is shown in our breast imaging center’s many national accreditations, recognizing us as a center of excellence.

How to Prepare for Your First Mammogram

Discussing Your Breast Health

Taking ownership of your breast health starts with a conversation with your primary care provider once you turn 30 years old.

Dr. Wahab noted that when discussing your breast health, it is important to detail any personal or family history of cancers, especially breast/ovarian cancer, or if you have had any breast implants or surgery. This information is helpful to see if you qualify for a screening mammogram sooner, or even supplemental screening with additional studies, such as an MRI or breast ultrasound.

Scheduling Your Mammogram

There is no specific time of the year after you turn 40 to schedule your mammogram—just schedule it when you’re ready. On or around your menstrual cycle, the breasts can be tender and more sensitive to compression, so women may want to avoid scheduling a mammogram during that time.

If you are pregnant, it is still safe to get a mammogram for both the mother and baby but be sure to let your technologist know you are pregnant so they can provide extra shielding during the exam. It is also safe to get a mammogram if you are breastfeeding. Breastfeed or pump within 30 minutes of your mammogram to ensure the best pictures possible, and you can resume breastfeeding right away. At UC Health, patients can obtain mammograms at the University of Cincinnati Cancer Center’s Barrett Cancer Center Building, West Chester Hospital and Women’s Centers and the UC Health Mobile Mammography Van.

The Day of Your Mammogram

Patients should avoid applying deodorant or creams, as these personal care items can show up on mammograms as calcifications. Please ensure your skin is clean, but again, do not apply any personal care items.

A mammogram feels like a tight squeeze, but it is not painful. Women usually do not feel any discomfort after a mammogram.

A Step-by-Step Guide to Your Screening Mammogram

Check in at the registration desk, where you will be handed a health history sheet. It is very important to be as detailed as possible with your personal and family health history, as well as any other breast symptoms you are having.

  1. You will then be asked to wait in a general waiting area until your mammogram technologist is ready for you.
  2. Once you technologist is ready, they will greet you at the door and walk you to a private dressing room so you can change into a gown. Here you will remove your shirt and bra and slip on the gown.
  3. The technologist will then walk you to the mammogram imaging suite. They will review your history prior to the imaging. They will position your breast in the mammogram unit two separate times for each breast—most commonly, you will only have four pictures done. Occasionally more pictures will be taken if a patient has larger breasts or implants. Our goal is to see as much of the breast as possible.
  4. The mammogram technologist will then escort you back to your dressing room to change into your clothes.
  5. Then you’re on your way to enjoy the rest of the day, knowing you have prioritized your health!

What’s Next?

If your first mammogram is normal, you should still have annual mammograms. If you have an abnormality on your mammogram, you may need to have additional testing, which may be a follow-up diagnostic mammogram, breast MRI or breast ultrasound.

If your mammogram shows dense breast tissue, you will get a letter explaining that having dense breasts can make it harder to find cancer on a mammogram and may also increase your risk of developing breast cancer. You may benefit from additional imaging tests to screen for breast cancer, such as breast MRI, including a Fast MRI, or breast ultrasound. Ask your healthcare provider if another screening test might be useful based on your risk.

What if I Get a Call Back After My Mammogram?

Fear not! Most callbacks after a screening mammogram do not mean that there is a cancer diagnosis, but it is important to rule out breast cancer if any abnormality is noticed on the X-ray images. Your doctor will go over all options with you and help you to decide which, if any, of these tests are right for you.

Don’t forget to encourage your friends and family to schedule their mammogram as well! Make yearly mammograms a celebration of being a woman—taking care of ourselves and each other.

To schedule an appointment with us or for questions regarding an appointment, call (513) 584-PINK (7465).