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Everything You Need to Know About a Mammogram

With breast cancer so prevalent, it’s all the more important to stay on top of your breast health. Detecting breast cancer early is the key to successful treatment. This is where mammography comes into play, along with routine breast self-exams.

At New England Women’s Healthcare, our team has experts in breast care, along with many other obstetric or gynecological needs. Our team consists of six specially trained doctors, who help you learn how to prevent breast cancer with breast self-exams. We also offer mammograms when they’re needed.

What is a mammogram?

Breast cancer is scary to think about, especially because you know it can’t always be prevented. However, with routine breast self-exams, your chances of finding a lump early are much greater than they used to be. Mammography is another tool our team uses to check your breast tissue for problems.

A mammogram is essentially a very low-dose X-ray of your breast tissue. It’s done either on a routine basis, or when a problem arises. There are two types of mammogram procedures: screening and diagnostic mammograms.

Screening mammograms are used to look for changes, even if you don’t have any symptoms. When you need to start getting mammograms relies heavily on your risk factors and family history. 

Most women can start having yearly mammograms around age 40. Once you’re between the ages of 45 and 54, you should have mammogram screenings every year.

Diagnostic mammograms are used when you’re having changes in your breast health, or when you’ve found a lump or mass. The only difference in a diagnostic mammogram is that the radiologist sometimes takes extra images when you have symptoms to make sure all areas and aspects of your breast tissue are captured.

How to prepare for the exam

Because a mammogram is essentially a type of X-ray, you don’t really need to do a whole lot to prepare for the test. There are some guidelines, though, that you need to follow on the day of the exam. Here are a few tips:

You also want to make sure you let your technologist know if you’re having any breast changes or have any lumps in your breast. 

If there’s a chance you could be pregnant, make sure to let the radiology technician know before your mammogram, because the use of X-rays could be harmful to the baby.

During the mammogram

Mammograms are slightly uncomfortable, but the more you know before you come in for one, the more comfortable you’ll be. There’s nothing to be afraid of when you need a mammogram, but here is what you can expect:

During your mammogram, you're asked to undress from the waist up, but you’re given a gown that wraps around so you stay covered when you aren’t in the exam room. When our team is ready, you’re taken to the room where the mammogram is performed.

After you’re in the room, the technologist asks you to take one of your breasts out of the gown. They position you where you need to be in front of the machine, and your breast is placed on the plate. In order for us to get a detailed picture of your breast, it has to be flattened by the machine. 

During the procedure, you might feel a little discomfort while your breast is flat, but the machine compresses your breast for only a few seconds. The technologist may need to reposition your breast a few times to get the images you need. 

Once you’re done, you wait in the waiting room to make sure the radiologist has all of the pictures they need. Once the images are reviewed, you can go home, and the results should be in within a week or so.

If you’re in need of a mammogram, call one of our offices in Woburn or Wilmington, Massachusetts, at 781-787-3003. You can also request an appointment online with our booking tool.

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