What Happens During a Mammogram? Apart from skin cancer, breast cancer is one of the most common cancers affecting women in the United States and around the world. In the US it accounts for about 1 in every 3 new cancer diagnosis in females each year.
With early detection however breast cancer is treatable and beatable. Getting a mammogram is the single best way to find breast cancer at its earliest stages long before it can be felt. If you’ve never had a mammogram and you’re concerned about the procedure, don’t be. Here’s what you can expect once you make an appointment.
What to Expect When You Arrive at the Hospital
When you arrive at the medical facility the mammographer will ask you to undress from the waist up and offer you a gown to wear. You will then be escorted to a room containing the mammogram machine. Only you and the mammographer will be present in the room.
The Mammogram Procedure
The mammographer will ask you to place your breasts between two plastic plates of the mammogram machine where they will be pressed, one at a time, and x-ray images taken. They are pressed to allow the breast tissue to spread out to minimize the amount of radiation required to take a clear picture.
The compression usually takes anywhere between 20-30 seconds which is sufficient time for the machine to take clear images of the breasts from two views: side to side and top to bottom. Depending on the patient’s breast size sometimes the procedure can be slightly uncomfortable but it is painless. Your breasts may be slightly sore but that only lasts for a few seconds.
What to Expect After Your Mammogram
After the procedure you will be led out of the room and asked to change.
The next step is to simply wait for the results. The waiting period will depend on the type of mammogram you’re getting. If it’s a standard screening mammogram checking for dense tissue, cysts, and tumors the results can sometimes take up to two weeks. However, if the mammogram is a follow-up test the results can be issued in as little as 30 minutes.
Sometimes your results can be inconclusive in which case you will be required to undergo another mammogram. To avoid inconclusive tests take the necessary precautions. Do not wear an antiperspirant, deodorant, or perfume on the day you’re scheduled for the procedure. Ingredients in these products can sometimes show up on the images and affect the results.
If your results are still unclear the mammographer may request ultrasound imaging to get clear pictures of your internal breast tissue. If this fails you may have to undergo a biopsy whereby a sample of your breast is removed and examined under a microscope. But this is only in rare instances where the results are inconclusive. In an overwhelming majority of cases, however, a mammogram will usually suffice in providing an accurate breast cancer diagnosis.