Smiling radiologist standing near patient while making mammography

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which means you’re probably already seeing pink ribbons everywhere — reminding us how important it is to get regular mammograms for breast cancer screening. 

Most medical professionals advise that women over 40 partake in annual mammograms to screen for breast cancer. While the risk of breast cancer is relatively low for someone in their early 40s (without prior family history), it’s still a good time to start discussing the procedure with your doctor so you know what to expect ahead of time and can schedule a regular screening cadence. If you have dense breast tissue, mammograms can be particularly helpful in detecting any abnormalities early on. 

“Breast cancer that’s found early, when it’s small and has not spread, is easier to treat successfully,” the American Cancer Society assures. And experts at the CDC agree: “Mammography is the most effective method of detecting breast cancer in its earliest and most treatable stage.” Diagnosing (and therefore treating) breast cancer early also improves survival rates, according to a January 2021 study reviewed by Cancer Research UK. 

Women and transgender men over 50 should continue to receive mammograms at least once every two years. Ultimately until the age of 75, the more regularly you’re keeping up with these screenings, the better. 

How to Prepare for a Mammogram

The process of getting a mammogram typically takes less than thirty minutes and requires little preparation. Here are a few tips on how you can get ready for your screening:

  • Schedule the appointment during a time when your breasts will be the least tender (typically the week following your period).
  • Don’t wear deodorant or antiperspirant, as many contain aluminum, which can interfere with imaging
  • If you’re concerned about pain, prep with Tylenol or ibuprofen ahead of your appointment to ease potential discomfort. 

What to Expect During a Mammogram

In general, mammogram appointments are quick and straightforward. The exam itself only takes about ten minutes. But during the process, here’s what you can expect:

  • You will be asked to undress from the waist-up and given a medical gown to wear.
  • During the exam, it will be only you and the technician in the room. They will take X-ray images of your breasts one at a time, placing them between two imaging plates for scanning.
  • The technician will read the results later that day or the next day and will contact you within 48 hours if follow-up testing is needed.

For reassurance, keep in mind it’s not uncommon to get results that need a second look. “Abnormal” results can be caused by dense breast tissue or benign cysts — but your doctor and screening technician will stay in close touch to keep you informed. 

Why You Should Get Your Mammogram

Now that you know how to prepare and what to expect, here are a few final reminders for making your mammogram appointment this year:

  • Abnormalities within the breast cannot always be felt. They are best examined with the X-ray technology used in a mammogram. 
  • Breast cancer is 99% curable when it’s caught early. (By mammograms!) 
  • Breast cancer caught early can save your life — and your boobs. 
  • The process really only takes 30 minutes. 

In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Avant Gynecology encourages you to speak with your primary care physician about getting an annual mammogram.