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6 mammogram prep tips to make your next screening go smoothly

6 mammogram prep tips to make your next screening go smoothly

It’s that time of year—time for your annual mammogram. Whether you’ve “been there, done that” or are approaching your first screening, we’ve got some mammogram prep tips to help your exam go smoothly and feel less intimidating.

Scheduling your breast cancer screening

All women should start getting annual mammograms by age 45. You might need to begin screening sooner if you’re African American, you’re Ashkenazi Jewish descent, or you’re transgender and still have breast tissue or have received breast-enhancing hormones.

One easy way to stay current with your screenings is to schedule them on or close to your birthday. If you haven’t scheduled your exam yet, follow these tips to make your mammogram more comfortable and to improve your overall experience:

  • Consider your cycle. Schedule your mammogram for a week after your period. That’s when your breasts tend to be less tender, and you may not feel as much discomfort as you might if you have the test the week before or during your period.
  • Find a good location—and stick with it. If you can, use the same imaging center every year. Your radiologist will have a record of previous mammograms and can compare your results over time to better understand changes.
  • Gather your records. If you decide to schedule your mammogram at a new location, call the previous site and ask them to send your results to the new center or give you a copy. That way, the new radiologist can review any previous images. If you’re the really organized type, also bring information about past biopsies or other breast procedures you’ve had.

Tips for the big day

Prepare for your mammogram on the day of your appointment by keeping the following in mind:

  • Skip the personal care products. One thing you should not do before a mammogram is apply deodorants, antiperspirants, powders, lotions, creams or perfume on your arms or on your breasts. These products can contain ingredients that, like cancerous cells, appear as white spots on mammogram images. Since the products can interfere with the radiologist’s review of your images, it’s best to skip them the day of your mammogram. It’s still okay to bathe and use soap as you normally would.
  • Wear a two-piece outfit and sensible shoes. You’ll need to take your shirt off for the test, so choose one that’s easy to take off and put back on. The exam also requires you to stand, so think about comfort when it comes to your footwear choice.
  • Plan for your appointment to last about 30 minutes. Your mammogram will take only 15 to 20 minutes, but you may need a few minutes beforehand to prepare for the exam. Once it’s over, you can go about your day.

Do mammograms hurt?

During a mammogram, each breast is compressed between two plates to spread your breast tissue out as much as possible. This allows for clearer images and a better view of potential abnormalities. You might find the compression uncomfortable, but the compression lasts only 10 to 15 seconds.

Don’t let the potential for pain deter you from your screening. There are ways to minimize discomfort. Ask your doctor or the imaging center if you can take a pain reliever, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, beforehand. During the test, your mammography technologist may also be able to alter the compression or provide a cushion to reduce your discomfort.

Mammograms are essential to good breast health. If you have a hard time remembering all these tips, your mammographer can help you through any hiccups (including giving you wipes if you forget to skip the deodorant) and make your exam go as smoothly as possible. Breast cancer screenings save lives, so the No. 1 “tip” to remember is to schedule one every year.

LCMC Health has convenient locations throughout New Orleans where you can get your next mammogram. Find one near you.