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Your first mammogram is an important appointment. But it doesn’t have to be a scary one.

Let’s face it—no one enjoys getting a mammogram. Whether it’s your first one or your tenth, we understand how stressful a mammogram can be. If your very first mammogram is on your calendar, you may be feeling stressed or have concerns about it. But a mammogram is one test you shouldn’t put off.

Your first mammogram: The basics

Going in for your first mammogram may be a frightening experience, but it doesn’t have to be. Knowing what to expect can make the experience go more smoothly. 

“So many women fear the idea of a mammogram and wait to get it done,” says Christine Policare, MD, a diagnostic radiologist. “Mammography plays an important role in breast health and finding any problems early, which is often when they are highly treatable.

When you go in for your mammogram, your breast will be placed on an X-ray plate and compressed for a few seconds while images are taken. During a 3D mammogram, the technician will take pictures in two projections — from above and from the side — to ensure visualization of all the breast tissue. Expect the entire process to take between 20 and 30 minutes.

After your mammogram, a diagnostic radiologist will review the series of images to see if there are any abnormalities, and then send your doctor a report. Your doctor should follow up with you if they find anything concerning.

Making the process a little bit easier

  • Plan around your menstrual cycle. During a mammogram, your breasts are compressed for a short time, which can be uncomfortable. To make the experience as pain-free as possible, try scheduling your mammogram for the week immediately following your menstrual period (if you have not started menopause). Your breasts should be less tender during this timeframe, which can help minimize any discomfort.
  • Skip the deodorant and lotion. To avoid having to repeat your mammogram, don’t wear deodorant or put lotion on your chest the day of your screening. Skincare items can appear as marks on the mammogram and won’t give your doctor a clear picture of your breasts. Consider scheduling an early-morning appointment and taking deodorant with you.
  • Wear comfortable clothes. When you arrive at the breast imaging center, you’ll receive a gown to wear during your mammogram. Wearing loose-fitting clothes will keep you comfortable during the procedure.
  • Think about changes before your screening. It’s helpful for the technician to know about any recent changes you’ve noticed in your breasts, as well as any family history of breast cancer. You should also alert the technician if you’re breastfeeding or if you might be pregnant.

“There are things a woman can do to make getting a mammogram less stressful. Tell your technologist if you are pregnant or think you might be, or if you’re breastfeeding. You’ll also want to discuss any medical problems you might be having or if you have a family history of breast cancer. Disclosing this information can give you a better mammo experience,” Dr. Policare advises.

What happens after your mammogram?

After the mammogram, your doctor will receive a report. He or she will review and report their findings back to you. If your breast radiologist sees something out of the ordinary on your mammogram, you may need a second visit for additional mammogram pictures. However, this is not necessarily cause for concern. The images may be unclear, or you may have a harmless cyst or some dense breast tissue.

“If your doctor does happen to discover something abnormal on your mammogram, it doesn’t automatically mean it’s cancer. It could be something harmless, such as a cyst in your breast or simple tissue overlap. That’s why we check. We can review your mammography results over time, comparing them to look for any changes,” says Dr. Policare.

Whatever you do, don’t skip your annual mammogram. It just might save your life!

Next steps:

Learn about breast health care at Geisinger 
Learn about our high-risk breast clinic
Learn about our inherited risk breast clinic

Here’s what to expect during your first mammogram.

Get a mammogram today