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How to prepare for a mammogram: Your ultimate guide

Key Takeaways:

  • Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer in women after lung cancer.
  • In the US, one out of eight women will develop invasive breast cancer during her life.
  • Early breast cancer detection could considerably increase the chances of survival.
  • Frequent breast self-exams and recurrent screening mammograms could help save your life.

Understanding breast cancer and being aware of the available procedures like mammography that can detect it early is a first step toward surviving it. 

Women scheduling a breast cancer screening exam want to know how to prepare for a mammogram. In this post, you will learn about breast cancer and its risk factors along with the best ways to screen for it and how much it usually costs. 

What is breast cancer?

Breast cancer is a cancer of your breast tissue. Among those, invasive or infiltrating breast cancer (IBC) accounts for up to 80%. Invasive cancer is the most challenging type to treat as the cancer has already spread. At a late stage, cancer cells metastasize, reach the bloodstream, and land on distant organs like the lung and liver.

Other types of breast cancer include a triple-negative form (TNBC), which accounts for about 15% of all breast cancer, and inflammatory, which is 5% of breast cancer cases.

According to the American Cancer Society, about one out of eight women will develop an IBC in her life. It is the second leading cause of death in women behind lung cancer.

Breast cancer that has already spread to distant parts of the body results in a 27% survival rate within five years of the diagnosis.

However, if you have been diagnosed with a localized tumor, the odds of surviving the cancer are 99%. In other words, early detection of your breast cancer brings you an extra 72% chance to continue a long life with your loved ones. 

How do you detect breast cancer at an early stage? 

You can develop breast cancer early on, and for this to happen, you need to be aware of your cancer risk factors and use that to inform your screening knowledge.

What are my cancer risk factors?

There are several factors to take into consideration to assess your breast cancer risk:

  • Getting older has been related to the disease. A more significant number of breast cancers have been diagnosed in women 50 years old and up.
  • Your family history of breast cancer is a significant risk factor. If your mom, grandma, or any woman in your extended family has been diagnosed with breast cancer or ovarian cancer, your risk of developing one increases.
  • Gene inheritance. The presence of BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations in your genome.
  • Women that undergo any chest radiation therapy before the age of 30 have a higher risk of developing breast cancer.

Having an idea of your risk of cancer should lead to an appropriate endeavor and prioritize preventative measures. Talk to your doctor about your risk factors.

Additionally, Ezra developed a five-minute questionnaire that could help you understand your risk levels.

Breast self-exam.

Regular and frequent self-examination of your breasts can help to catch breast cancer at an early stage. Make it a monthly routine, and write down what you feel each time.

Some parts of the breast could feel differently from others. For instance, your breast may feel soft or sandy. Record what you feel to make sure that the next time, you won’t mistake natural tissue structures for a potentially harmful change of form. 

Breast imaging.

The American Cancer Society highly recommends recurrent cancer screening of your breasts for women 40 years old and up.

Traditionally, your doctor will request a mammogram of your breasts. You can perform such medical exams in a certified mammogram facility. 

Your doctor may prescribe a complimentary ultrasound or MR imaging procedure if your mammogram gives any cause for concern.

How to prepare for a mammogram.

How to prepare for a mammogram: Senior woman staring straight ahead

The day of the exam has arrived. If you feel anxious, this is entirely understandable. Whether or not it’s your first mammogram, an exam that could have a meaningful impact on your future is intimidating.

Often, the worry is linked to not knowing what it means to take a mammogram. So, let us walk you through it.

Before the exam.

There are several things to consider to ensure successful mammography:

  • Choose a trustable imaging center. An FDA-certified facility is an excellent way to go. Once you found a facility you trust, continue with it. The ability to compare current scans with former ones on record will help your radiologist make an accurate diagnosis because scan quality may vary depending on the location. In any case, bring your previous breast exams with you. 
  • Anticipate the cost. In general, a mammogram exam costs between $100 to $250 without insurance. If you are not sure where to find a certified facility, contact the National Cancer Institute or the American College of Radiology.
  • As you prepare yourself for the exam, avoid using antiperspirants, deodorants, lotions, or creams that contain metal particles. Such particles will interfere with the X-rays and make the interpretation of the scan difficult.
  • Women with sensitive breasts may experience more discomfort during the exam. If that’s your case, talk to your doctor. Over-the-counter pain medication like acetaminophen or aspirin could help reduce the pain.
  • Consider scheduling your appointment when your breasts are tender. There is a specific time for women when the breast tissue is more relaxed due to the hormonal effect. Getting your mammogram during that time will make the experience less painful and also ease the diagnosis.
  • Dress in a two-piece outfit. During the exam, the technologist will ask you to remove the top. With a two-piece outfit, the bottom will stay on.

During the exam.

Once in the radiology room, you will be asked to remove everything from neck to hips. It is a standard procedure to prevent the scan from being misinterpreted.

Next, you will remove your top, and the facility will provide a wrap to cover your bust before you go to the mammogram machine.

To respect your privacy, you and the technologist will be the only persons in the room during the exam. 

Two plates will sandwich and press your breast. This procedure improves the quality of the pictures taken by the radiologist. The flatter the breast is, the more accurate the scan is.

The entire procedure will not take more than 20 minutes, and the breast compression takes only a few seconds at a time.

If you feel any discomfort or pain during the procedure, do not hesitate to tell your technologist. 

After this, you may put your clothes back on and get back your jewelry or other accessories.

After the exam.

After a few days, your facility will send the scan results to your health care provider. Don’t hesitate to call your doctor or your mammo center to update your medical exam.

Within 30 days, you will receive a summary report. If your exam indicates cancerous lesions, you may receive the report sooner.

After they receive your scan results, your health care provider will follow up with you to discuss the next steps. If your mammogram displays unusual spots, your doctor will prescribe further medical tests such as ultrasound and biopsy.

If your scan does not show any abnormalities or changes compared to the previous mammogram, you can schedule your next mammogram for two years from your scan date.

What are the risks and limitations of a mammogram?

Practitioner doing a mammogram for a patient

When undergoing mammography, be aware of the limitations and risks you may encounter. While the benefits of regular cancer screening absolutely outweigh the risks, the risks are still important to understand.

  • During the mammogram, the low dose X-rays expose your chest to radiation. But this isn’t cause for alarm. This is far less than the amount of radiation you get during a flight to Paris.
  • A mammogram could require additional exams such as ultrasound imaging or a biopsy. Keep in mind that even if you’re young and go through extra testing, you usually will not have cancer. One reason for that is younger women‘s breasts are typically denser than older women. They contain more glands and connective tissue, which could complicate a scan’s reading.
  • The accuracy rate of a mammogram for breast cancer is about 78%. Unfortunately, the rest of the cases are either false positives or false negatives, which makes multiple screening imaging options important.

Ezra can help you screen for breast cancer early.

Early detection of breast cancer is crucial to preventing its progression. A routine mammogram procedure can save your life. 

X-ray images from other imaging scans that use ultrasound or MRI provide valuable information for a more accurate diagnosis. If you are 40 or older, plan to have even more frequent cancer screenings.

However, it’s never too soon to be proactive. 

More than a third of women who are eligible for a screening breast mammogram don’t book them. Our research shows that’s because booking mammograms just isn’t convenient. That’s why we’ve launched the Ezra Mammogram. Now available at our New York partner facilities (and soon available at our California locations), our service conveniently allows you to book your appointment online. Our mammograms are insurance-covered for women aged 40 or over (who have insurance), or $325 for self-pay. Plus, your 3D mammogram will take only 20 minutes, and your results will be available in just 48 hours. Book your mammogram today.