Your first mammogram: What to expect
October 05, 2020
7 things your doctor wants you to know about mammograms
BY Danielle Underferth
You may never meet the doctor who looks at your mammogram results. But your radiologist is one of the most important physicians involved in your health care.
Radiologists are physicians who detect, diagnose and treat illness using medical imaging like X-rays, computed tomography (CT) and magnetic imaging (MRI). It is a radiologist who will read your mammogram images to see if there is any reason for concern or further testing.
We spoke to Marion Scoggins, M.D., a radiologist in Breast Imaging, about the importance of mammograms. She shared some of the things she wants patients to know before, during and after their mammogram.
Don’t skip your mammogram because of fear of COVID-19
Putting off important health care appointments like screening mammograms is not a good way to safeguard your health. Cancer screenings detect cancer early, when the chances of treating it successfully are greatest.
At MD Anderson, we are taking great precautions to protect our patients and staff during the COVID-19 pandemic. For instance, we’re screening everyone who comes onto our campuses for COVID-19 and asking everyone to wear a medical-grade mask while visiting our facilities. Because our patients are especially vulnerable to infection, the measures we are taking to prevent the spread of COVID-19 prevention go above and beyond the standard recommendations for health care facilities.
Mammograms are safe
Both traditional and 3D mammograms use a low dose of radiation to take images of the breast. There is no evidence that getting an annual mammogram increases the risk of breast or other cancers or illnesses due to this minimal exposure to radiation.
We do have extensive evidence, however, that annual mammograms save lives by detecting cancer early, when it’s most treatable.
If you have had a mammogram before, bring your previous results with you
If you have moved or simply changed mammogram facilities, it's important that your new radiologist be able to look at your previous mammogram results.
"Looking for changes is an important part of reading an exam," says Scoggins. "We can only do that if we have the prior images."
The best way for your doctor to get your previous images is for you to bring them in yourself. But that is not always possible. If you know where you got your previous mammogram, your doctor may be able to get the results for you.
The breast technologist has to adjust and compress your breast to get the best picture
Let's face it: mammograms can be uncomfortable.
In order to get a clear image of your breast tissue, a technologist places your breast on top of a plate or "paddle," and moves a top plate down, pressing your breast tissue between the two plates. The technologist will adjust your breast once it's compressed.
Some women may find this awkward and uncomfortable, but Scoggins wants patients to know that this is necessary to get a quality image of the breast.
"The breast is flattened so that the tissue is spread out and immobile," she says. "That compression is the thing that's critical for us to see what we are looking for. It allows us to get the best quality images."
It also means you will get the lowest possible dose of radiation to your breast tissue.
Wearing perfume, deodorant, lotion or other products really does affect your mammogram results
Here's why: These substances can look like a breast problem on the X-ray.
That can lead to a “false positive” result. A false-positive result is when your screening exam shows there is a problem when there is not. A false-positive result can trigger unnecessary additional testing and stress.
"We ask patients not to wear these products on the breast, chest or underarm areas to reduce the chance they will be called back with a false-positive result," says Scoggins.
If you have injuries or physical limitations, you can still get a mammogram
If you have shoulder problems, are in a wheelchair, have limitations due to a stroke or other physical limitations, you can still get a mammogram.
"Just because you may have issues with mobility, that doesn't prevent MD Anderson from being able to do a mammogram," says Scoggins. “We do mammograms on women with all kinds of physical limitations.”
Don't let confusion over screening guidelines stop you from getting a mammogram
It can be confusing for women when they hear different recommendations about when to start screening mammograms. Don't let that stop you from getting a mammogram.
MD Anderson recommends women get a clinical breast exam and mammogram every year, beginning at age 40.
"We make our screening recommendations based on the best research available," says Scoggins. If you are concerned about what age to begin, talk to your doctor.
Schedule your mammogram at MD Anderson online or by calling 1-844-240-7092.
We make our screening recommendations based on the best research available.