Your first mammogram: What to expect
Breast cancer screening exams help find breast cancer at an early stage. When found early, the chances for successfully treating the disease are greatest.
Along with regular exams, practice awareness. This means you should stay familiar with your breasts. That way you’ll notice changes, like a new lump or mass. Then, report them to your doctor without delay.
The screening recommendations below apply to most women.
Age 20 to 39
- Clinical breast exam every one to three years (A health care provider checks for lumps or other changes.)
Age 40 and older
- Clinical breast exam every year
- Mammogram every year
Exams for women at increased risk
Women at increased risk have a higher chance of getting breast cancer. This doesn’t mean you will definitely get cancer. But, you may need to start screening at an earlier age, get additional tests or be tested more often.
You’re at increased risk for breast cancer if you fall under one or more of these groups.
- History of radiation treatment to the chest
- Genetic mutation, including an abnormality in the BRCA 1 or BRCA 2 genes, CDH1, Bannayan-Riley-Ruvalcaba Syndrome
- History of lobular carcinoma in situ
- Five-year risk of breast cancer 1.7% or greater at age 35 or older, as defined by a Gail Model calculation. Calculate your risk using the Gail Model.
- A life-time risk of breast cancer 20% or greater, as defined by models dependent on family history. Women with a strong family history of breast cancer should consider speaking with a genetic counselor.
Suspect you may be at increased risk? Print and share MD Anderson’s breast cancer screening chart with your doctor.
Exams for women who have had breast cancer
If you’ve had breast cancer, you need a different plan to check for cancer recurrence.
Print the MD Anderson survivorship chart below that best describes your cancer. And share it with your doctor. Your doctor can use this chart to create a more tailored plan for you.
The screening plans on this page apply to women expected to live for at least 10 years. They’re not for women who have a health condition that may make it hard to diagnose or treat breast cancer. Your doctor can help you decide if you should continue screening after age 75.
When I turned 40 and it was time to schedule my first mammogram, I was hesitant to do so. I’ve heard many frightening stories about how painful and terrifying they can be, and I had a lot of questions.
Should I take a day off of work to mentally prepare? Should I not take a shower or wear deodorant the day of the appointment? Am I mentally prepared to accept the test results? Should I practice yoga poses before the procedure?
I was so nervous I researched on every website available, read every blog and watched every YouTube video until the mammogram was no longer my concern. Instead, I allowed the internet to diagnose me with all sorts of other illnesses and ailments.
So, many months after my 40th birthday, I finally drew up the courage to schedule a mammogram. I work at MD Anderson, so I decided to make an appointment at MD Anderson’s Cancer Prevention Center. Surprisingly, the professionalism of the patient access representative calmed me immediately, and I scheduled the mammogram just four days later.
My first mammogram
On the day of my appointment, I had similar interactions with everyone I came in contact with. From parking to registration to the X-ray to meeting the nurse practitioner for the first time, the entire process was relaxed, organized and professional.
Of course, the mammogram was a bit uncomfortable, and yes, the machine was cold. However, the procedure was quick, and each image took only about 10 seconds.
The morning after my mammogram, the nurse practitioner called to tell me that the screening showed a “suspicious” area and asked that I come back as soon as possible. She indicated that the next visit would require both a mammogram and an ultrasound.
Before the end of our conversation, I went into a panic and immediately began thinking the absolute worst. Later that evening, I was reminded by my mother that regardless of what the results could be, I was at the right place and would be in the best hands at MD Anderson.
The next morning, I went to MD Anderson’s Undiagnosed Breast Clinic for the mammogram and ultrasound. Again, MD Anderson’s staff made me feel as if they were focused completely on me. I was not merely a medical record number. I was important. An important person with no idea what to expect nor what her test results would reveal. This attention was ever so important and should be the standard for every person experiencing any cancer screening.
What I learned from my first mammogram
Fortunately, the follow-up appointment revealed that everything was fine, and I will continue to have my yearly mammograms at MD Anderson. After that experience, here are a few lessons I learned:
- You should bathe prior to your mammogram. If you are like me and take showers in the morning, try and schedule an early appointment. Although it’s suggested to skip deodorant and beauty creams before the mammogram, your care team will appreciate you having a bath. Also try wearing a two piece outfit so that you only have to remove the top part of your clothing for the X-Ray. No yoga experience needed.
- Don’t panic if you get a call back after your mammogram. An immediate follow-up appointment after your mammogram does not necessarily mean you have cancer, especially after your first mammogram. Your initial screening may reveal “suspicious” findings only because your doctors have no previous images to compare them to. Many times, extra views are needed because parts of the images were unclear and need further evaluation.
- Taking care of yourself is the best 40th birthday gift you could ever give yourself. Remember, a mammogram is preventive care. The purpose of the screening is to find cancer at an early stage. When and if cancer is found early, the chances for successfully treating the disease are the highest.
For me, MD Anderson debunked every myth and made my first mammogram experience a significant milestone in life. My hope is that every person’s first cancer screening is as comfortable and memorable.
Request an appointment at MD Anderson’s Lyda Hill Cancer Prevention Center online or by calling 1-877-632-6789.