Mammograms: what to expect

12:23 15 October in Breast Cancer

The saying, ‘Don’t believe everything you hear’ cannot be truer than for mammograms. Despite what you’ve heard, there’s no need to be afraid! The mammographers from Winelands Radiography answer all your questions to dispel your fears.

A mammogram is an important step in taking care of yourself and your breasts. Only 2 to 4 screening mammograms in 1 000 lead to a diagnosis of breast cancer. Whether you’re a mammogram newbie or a veteran, knowing what to expect may help the process go more smoothly.


How to prepare

  • If you have a choice, use a facility that specialises in mammograms and does several a day.
  • Try to go to the same facility every time, so it’s easy to compare your mammograms from year to year.
  • If you’ve had mammograms at another facility, take those records to the new facility (or have them sent there) for comparison.
  • To help reduce discomfort and get good pictures, schedule your mammogram when your breasts are not tender or swollen. Avoid the week before your period starts.
  • On the day of the exam, don’t wear deodorant, antiperspirant or powder. Some of these products contain substances that can show up on the x-ray as white spots.
  • Wear a skirt or pants, so that you’ll only need to remove your top and bra for the mammogram.
  • Discuss any new findings or problems in your breasts with your healthcare provider before getting the mammogram.


Before your mammogram

  • Inform the technologist of any breast changes or problems you’ve experienced. Describe any medical history that could affect your breast cancer risk – such as surgery, hormone use, breast cancer in your family or your breast cancer history.
  • Tell the technologist if you’re breastfeeding or if you think you might be pregnant.


What to expect

  • You will have to undress above the waist. The facility will give you a wrap to wear.
  • A technologist will position your breasts for the mammogram. Only you and the technologist will be present during the procedure.
  • To get a high-quality picture, your breast must be flattened. The technologist places your breast on the machine’s plate. The plastic upper plate lowers to compress your breast for a few seconds, while the technologist takes a picture.
  • The whole procedure takes about 20 minutes. An ultrasound, if needed, also takes about 20 minutes. The actual breast compression only lasts a few seconds.
  • You might feel some discomfort when your breasts are compressed. For some women, it can be painful. Tell the technologist if it hurts.
  • Two views of each breast are taken for a screening mammogram. If you have breast implants or large breasts, more pictures may be needed.
  • During a diagnostic mammogram, the images are checked by the radiologist while you’re at the facility. More pictures can then be taken if there is an area of concern.
  • In some cases, special images known as ‘spot views’ or ‘magnification views’ are used to make a small area of concern easier to see.