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Preparing for your first mammogram: 6 things you need to know

If you’ve never had a mammogram, it can be intimidating when you don’t know what to expect. The team at Southwell OB/GYN is here to make you feel more comfortable before your first visit. Chasta Stewart is a registered mammographer at Southwell OB/GYN and has 25 years of experience in performing mammograms and in mammography quality control. Read on for Chasta’s advice for six things to know to help you prepare for your first mammogram.

  1. What is a mammogram?

A mammogram is an x-ray of the breast that’s used to find breast changes. X-rays were first used to examine breast tissue nearly a century ago. Today, the x-ray machines used for mammograms produce lower energy x-rays and expose the breast to much less radiation compared to those in the past. At Southwell OBGYN, we use the Hologic Selena Dimensions Genius 3D Mammography system. This allows us to produce 2D breast imaging, as well as 3D breast imaging (breast tomosynthesis technology). This technology has been proven to detect 20%-65% more invasive breast cancers compared to using 2D mammography images alone.

  1. Where to Get It

Find an ACR accredited center that specializes in mammograms (Southwell OB/GYN is an ACR accredited breast center, and we perform mammograms in-office every weekday!) Having all your mammograms at the same facility will make it easier for doctors to compare images from one year to the next. If you decide to have your mammogram done at a different facility this year, have those images sent to your new facility before your exam day. This will cut down the waiting time for your final report.

  1. When to Schedule It

Most insurances will cover for a woman to obtain her baseline mammogram at age 40 with annual mammograms to follow. There are a few exceptions. For example, if your mother or sister had breast cancer earlier than age 40, some insurances will allow you to start your baseline mammogram earlier. It’s also best to schedule your mammogram about a week after your menstrual period. Your breasts won’t be as tender or swollen, which means less discomfort during the mammography exam.

  1. What (and What Not) to Wear

Wear a 2-piece outfit because you will need to remove your top and bra. Do not apply deodorant, antiperspirant, powder, lotion, or ointment on or around your chest on the day of your mammogram. These products can appear as white spots on the x-ray.

  1. What to Expect

The entire procedure takes about 20 minutes from start to finish. This includes the time it takes to update the computer systems and answer breast questionnaire. During the mammogram, the breast is compressed between two plastic plates for 12 seconds while an x-ray is taken with a six-second exposure. It’s repositioned (and compressed again) to take another view, which is then repeated on the other breast. Even though it may be uncomfortable, compression is necessary for the best image quality. Compression helps to provide a clear view without motion.

  1. Getting the Results

At Southwell OB/GYN, the average time to receive results is between 10 and 14 days. If you have not received results within 14 days, you can contact your provider. If the radiologist finds something suspicious, you’ll likely be contacted within a week to take new images or a consult with your provider for additional tests. Being contacted for a return appointment doesn’t always mean you have cancer. A suspicious finding may be just dense breast tissue, a cyst, or the image wasn’t clear enough for the radiologist to provide an accurate reading.  If this is your first mammogram, your provider may want to look at an area more closely simply because there is no previous mammogram for comparison.

Southwell OB/GYN is located at 814 Northwood Park Drive in Valdosta. Providers include Dr. Pam Temples, Dr. Joe Clifton, and Dr. Nikki Yarbrough. To make an appointment at Southwell OB/GYN, call (229) 262-6810 or visit mysouthwell.com/southwell-obgyn for more information.