Guide on How to Prepare for Your Next Mammogram

Jul 11, 2021
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Let’s discuss what you can do ahead of time to prepare for your next mammogram. The purpose of the x-ray is to distinguish normal structures that are components of the breast such as glandular and fatty tissue from abnormal lesions. Subtle differences in the cellular structure of the tissue such as distortion, masses or extremely small white spots (as small as grains of salt) called microcalcifications may be hard to visualize. Therefore, make sure you get the best imaging and interpretation.  


We need to obtain the best pictures of the breast to have the best opportunity to find an abnormality early. The clearer the mammogram, the better the ability of the radiologist to visualize small cancers before they can be felt. Although most findings prove to be benign lesions such as cysts or fibrous nodules, we perform regular annual or biennial mammograms to look for abnormalities that may represent the earliest signs of breast cancer. 


When scheduling your mammogram, be sure to tell the receptionists why you are having the exam such as “it’s my annual exam” or “I have a breast lump”. This is the first step in ensuring that the proper exams will be scheduled. A screening mammogram typically consists of two standard high-resolution low-dose x-ray images of each breast. Diagnostic mammograms for breast problems like a “lump” may involve additional images such as spot compression or magnification imaging. These images are performed in addition to regular mammography. The amount of time to plan for the diagnostic imaging varies depending on the circumstances. If you need additional studies such as ultrasound for a breast complaint, this may involve a different set of technologists. A Radiologist is involved in real-time monitoring or examining a patient with a breast complaint at the Centers.


Tell the scheduler if you have any specific requests such as having your screening mammogram read at the time if you live a long distance away or if you will be having any breast surgery in the near future. If you have breast implants, let us know as the imaging takes additional time. If you have had a personal history of breast cancer or if you have a strong family history of breast cancer, then let the scheduler know to allow extra time. Tell the technologist know if you have questions for the radiologist. For many women, this process is a breeze. For others, it may be nerve-racking. If you are nervous about the exam because it’s your first time, let us know. If you are concerned about the potential results, we ask you to please share those concerns so that your Care Team (technologist, medical assistant, radiologist) may be involved. 


The mammography technologist will walk you through the process of what is needed to obtain the best images. She will ensure you are comfortable with that plan. For every body type, mammogram imaging may be different. Everyday routines such as applying deodorant can interfere with the ability of the mammogram. Small aluminum particles in deodorants can produce artifacts and make it difficult to distinguish from calcifications. Tiny calcifications called microcalcifications may be the earliest sign of breast cancer before a mass develops. Wear a two-piece outfit if possible because you will be changing into a gown. The mammography technologist needs easy access to perform the mammogram, yet we want you to be comfortable. The technologist will position each breast onto a rectangular curved paddle and then apply gentle pressure. The amount of pressure needed for the correct exposure is based on experience and the machine presets. 


Mammogram- women's imaging

We want to keep the breast in the same position, throughout the mammogram. Avoid slight motion that may cause blurriness of the image if you can. The mammogram technologist will ask you to hold your breath for a few seconds while she obtains the exposure. There are typically two views of each breast obtained. You will be repositioned four times, once for each view of each breast. If you have implants, four views will be obtained for each breast for a total of eight images. Our technologists are highly experienced in performing mammogram imaging for implants. The gentle pressure used for performing these exams is minimal and within the amount recommended by the manufacturer. The mammogram technologists are adept at recognizing possible barriers to follow through. If there may be a language barrier or disability, please let the scheduler and technologist know that. She will involve the radiologist at the time for your best care.


Know who is reading your mammogram as this may be the most important exam you have. Our radiologists are all specialized in breast imaging and non-invasive breast biopsy. Their specialized training far exceeds the community standards. Make sure that your radiologist is accessible and responsive to your needs and concerns. When selecting the optimal imaging center for you, know that experience matters. The Women’s Imaging Center and our Care Teams have been serving women throughout Colorado for over 25 years. We have consistently received the highest commendations and awards for excellence in our field of women’s radiology. The facility you choose should be recommended by your clinician based on reputation and experience, not just convenience. Remember that most mammography findings are benign (noncancerous) or variations in the breast tissue that prove to be normal. However, it takes specialists proven in their field to spot the earliest signs of breast cancer. 


The Breast Radiologist at The Women’s Imaging Center interprets the image to determine if there are any mass or suspicious findings that suggest breast cancer. If previous mammograms are needed, the radiologist may need to compare them before a final opinion is made. If you have a breast complaint, please bring any concerns to the attention of the technologist. She will directly involve the radiologist at the time of your visit so that appropriate variations in imaging can be made. For some breast problems, a minimally invasive breast biopsy can be performed. Our breast biopsies are all performed in the in-office for your comfort, convenience, and for the fastest results. When you are worried, time is important. If that is indicated, then results will typically be available within one to two days (at any of our four locations Denver, Highlands Ranch, Lakewood, Westminster, and Centennial). If further action is required, a breast MRI can be performed on-site to determine additional imaging characteristics. Since the MRI needs to be approved by your insurance company in advance, we orchestrate this process with your particular insurance. We will perform that authorization process upon recommendation of your referring clinician or in the continuity of care following the American Cancer Society and the National Cancer Coalition Network (NCCN) guidelines.


Kelly McAleese
by Kelly McAleese