A mammography tech helps a woman get ready for her mammogram.

What You Need to Know Before Getting a Mammogram

The five-year survival rate of breast cancer is nearly 100% when detected early. However, symptoms don’t tend to show up until the cancer has grown, so how are you supposed to find it in its beginning stages? Mammograms allow doctors to detect even the slightest changes in your breast tissue and recommend further testing if needed. Since doctors began recommending regular screenings in the 1980s, survival rates for this common form of cancer have drastically improved. 

Especially if you haven’t had one before, mammograms may seem a little intimidating—but when you can prepare for it in advance, you can feel more confident. 

When You Should Start Getting Mammograms 

The age at which you start receiving annual screenings depends on your risk of developing breast cancer. If you have an average risk, your doctor will likely recommend starting regular testing at age 40. If you have a higher risk, your doctor might recommend an annual mammogram and MRI beginning at age 30. Your OB/GYN can help you determine your personal risk. 

You may benefit from an annual mammogram and MRI starting at a younger age if:

  • You have a personal or familial history of breast cancer.
  • You had radiation therapy on your chest between ages 10-30. 
  • You have a mutated BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene (which you can determine through genetic testing).
  • A first-degree relative has a mutated BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene.

The Different Types of Mammograms 

There are two main types of mammograms: screening and diagnostic. Screening mammograms are the more common ones (the kind you’ll typically get each year). However, if you scheduled a mammogram because you found an abnormality or your doctor referred you after detecting something on your scans, you will receive a diagnostic mammogram. Diagnostic mammograms take a little longer, and your doctor will take more pictures of a specific area of your breast to help determine whether or not you should receive a biopsy.

How to Prepare for Your Mammogram 

Here are a few things you can do to help your screening go smoothly. 

  • Wear a top and bottoms. You will have to remove your top and bra, so patients often feel more comfortable when they can stay dressed from the waist down. 
  • Skip the deodorant. Some ingredients in deodorants and antiperspirants can show up on a mammogram, making the results appear abnormal. Feel free to bring some with you so you can apply it afterward.
  • Consider pain medication. Mammograms can sometimes be uncomfortable, so if you’re concerned about pain, ask your doctor about whether you should take a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication (NSAID) before the procedure. 

Speak with your Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Group OB/GYN to review your medical history and determine the right age to begin testing. Is it time for your first mammogram? Schedule your screening at St. Luke’s Health. If your results indicate breast cancer, you can trust your doctor to conduct further testing and refer you to a compassionate and dedicated radiation or medical oncologist for treatment if needed.

Learn more about the nationally recognized Dan L Duncan Comprehensive Cancer Center, or browse our breast cancer research and resources.

American Cancer Society | American Cancer Society Recommendations for the Early Detection of Breast Cancer
American Cancer Society | Mammograms: What to Know Before You Go
NIH | Breast Cancer Fact Sheet

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