Your first mammogram: What to expect
Have breast implants? Or thinking of getting implants? You may be worried they’ll make it hard for your doctor to detect and treat breast cancer.
No need for concern, says Therese Bevers, M.D., medical director of
MD Anderson’s Cancer Prevention Center. Just take the extra precautions listed below.
Get familiar with your new breasts
In about 90% of breast cancer cases, women find a breast lump themselves. So, check your breasts regularly. It’s one of the best ways to detect breast cancer early.
If you have implants, pay extra attention to how your new breasts look and feel.
“It’ll take a while to get used to your new breasts because they’ll have a different texture. They’ll also have new folds or dimples,” Bevers says.
But after you get comfortable with your new breasts, you shouldn’t have any problems noticing changes.
“Women with implants can sometimes even notice changes more easily than women without implants,” Bevers says. “Implants tend to push the natural breast tissue closer to the surface of the breast, making a lump easier to feel.”
Take extra screening steps
Most women, including those with breast implants, should start annual mammograms at age 40.
During a mammogram, images are collected by flattening the breast between two mammogram plates. Implants can get in the way of this flattening and make it difficult to see the breast clearly. So, you may need additional pictures taken during the exam.
“After we finish the standard views, we push the implants out of the way so we can get views of the breast tissue when flattened,” Bevers says. “It’s a more complex process, but we can still see good images of the breast.”
It's best for women with implants to get a mammogram before and within one year of your cosmestic surgery, says Mark Clemens, M.D., an MD Anderson plastic surgeon. “The mammogram after you get your implants serves as a baseline for future tests.”
Share info on your implants
Worried that flattening your breasts during the exam will damage your implants? That rarely happens, Clemens says.
“The benefits of getting a mammogram far outweigh the risks of implant damage,” he says.
At every appointment remind your doctor, radiologist or gynecologist that you have implants. And make sure your health care provider has all the information on your breast implants, like the manufacturer, design, style and volume, before you get your mammogram.
“Having this information helps us determine if any unusual changes are from the implant or a woman’s natural breast tissue,” Clemens says.
Cancer may lead to implant removal
If you have implants and get breast cancer, you may need to have your implants removed. This is true even if you don’t need a mastectomy (the removal of one or both breasts).
Keeping your implants can be painful. Plus, the radiation treatment can change the shape of your implant, and cause infection and even loss of the implant.
Talk to your doctor
If you have implants it's important to know about the possible complications. Remember that implants are not lifelong products. They require maintenance and replacement. Be aware of common complications, like infection, implant displacement and scar tissue build-up.
"Patients should also be aware of rare occurrences of breast implant-associated anaplastic large cell lymphoma," Clemens says. "Look for signs of a weakened immune system, like fatigue or hair loss."
He advices that patients talk to their doctors about other possible side effects to make the best decisions for their bodies.
Whether you have implants or not, your best defense against breast cancer is to be aware of your breasts and go in for regular breast screening exams.
You can also schedule your mammogram at other Houston area locations: