Time For Your First Mammogram? Here’s What To Expect

Let’s talk about boobs, baby. 

Let’s talk about you and me. 

If you didn’t sing those sentences like Salt-N-Pepa sang ‘Let’s Talk About Sex,’ what’s wrong with you?

I’ll tell you what isn’t wrong with you — being nervous about getting a mammogram. 

I’m not only here to get a catchy song stuck in your head, I’m also here to put your mind at ease about the test. Here’s what to expect at a mammogram appointment.


Healthy Boobs: What Happens During a Mammogram

Whatever size cup you’re sporting, breast health should always be a priority. 

This includes monthly self-breast exams, your gynecologist doing an exam at your annual appointment, and mammograms — x-rays of the boobs. 

According to the American Cancer Society guidelines, women ages 40-44 should begin to start yearly breast cancer screening with mammograms; women aged 45-54 should get mammograms annually, and women 55 and older should be getting mammograms every 2 years.

Those guidelines are for women who don’t feel anything irregular during their self-exams, don’t have a history or breast cancer in their family and don’t notice a change in the appearance of their breasts — if any of the above is happening to you, you should talk to your doctor. 

What to Expect at a Mammogram

My first mammogram happened the year I turned 40, and I was scared. 

Not because I thought anything was wrong — I was scared of the test because of women in my life telling me about the test itself. 

They said it was painful. Words like “smooshed” and “pancaked” were thrown around and that did not sound fun at all. 

And it isn’t fun, but it’s not painful. Uncomfortable? Sure. They do smoosh your boobs between two metal plates like a woodworking project in a vice. 

But I repeat, it’s definitely not painful. 

How to Prepare for Your First Mammogram

As for what to expect at a mammogram, there are several things you need to know before going to your first mammogram appointment. 

  • Do not wear deodorant, perfume, lotion, or powder on your armpits or around your breasts. The reason for this is molecules in these particular products could show up on your x-ray, which could cause unnecessary panic or stress. 

  • Leave your necklaces at home, as they could interfere with the test, and no reason to risk misplacing a favorite piece of jewelry.  

  • Don’t wear a dress! Instead of having to get entirely naked under the flimsy paper robe they provide, you’ll only have to take off your bra and top — you can leave your pants on. 

  • Choose a radiology facility that offers 3D imaging if it’s available — that way, if you need further studies, you can have them done at the same place and most likely at the same visit (you may have to pay out of pocket for 3D imaging, so check with your insurance company to see what is and isn’t covered). 

  • Make your mammogram appointment a week after your period ends, if possible. Trust me on this — it’s a lot less uncomfortable if your breasts are not tender, which mine are the week before my period starts (I actually have to hold them when I encounter stairs). 

  • Bring a script or a written order from the doctor (probably your OB/GYN) who ordered the study. You won’t be able to get the mammogram without this! You’ll also need your ID and insurance info. 

After the First Mammogram 

Once your mammogram is completed, the tech will send you out to a waiting room while they see if the images captured are clear enough to send on to a radiologist, who reads the results. 

If the images pass the mustard, they’ll tell you to get dressed and you are out of there (don’t forget to put on deodorant). 

If the images aren’t clear or there was a problem with the test (you didn’t hold your breath, the machine went wonky, etc.) they may repeat the study. 

Don’t panic! It does not mean anything is wrong, just that the images need to be clearer so a doctor can read them. 

According to the National Cancer Society, “Getting called back after a screening mammogram is fairly common, and it doesn’t mean you have breast cancer. 

“In fact, fewer than 1 in 10 women called back for more tests are found to have cancer. Often, it just means more x-rays or an ultrasound needs to be done to get a closer look at an area of concern. In fact, most repeat mammograms do not find cancer.”

3D Imaging Mammogram

If you have dense breast tissue, like I do, in all probability you’ll need further tests, and that’s the 3D imaging. 

What exactly is dense breast tissue? According to the Mayo Clinic, “dense breast tissue refers to the appearance of breast tissue on a mammogram. It’s a normal and common finding.”

At my first mammogram, I was told my boobs were very dense. I’ve had the same lovely tech for 5 years and at my last study, she referred to them as “junky ass titties” and I laughed so hard we had to wait until it subsided for her to get an image of my left boob.  

So I’ve always had the further 3D imaging studies, but when I was told it had to be done, I panicked. 

Don’t be like me and panic! A lot of women have dense boobs and they’re just trying to be super sure you’re OK. 

Then those further studies are sent to the radiologist to read and THEN you’re outta there (again, remember to put on deodorant). 

The waiting for the call about your results is honestly worse than the test, but when the call comes and you hopefully have negative results, you’ll be glad you put your boobs, and yourself, through it. 

Further Studies

My last mammogram was an eventful one — they “saw something” that they wanted to biopsy. 

Did I call my parents freaking the f*** out, crying, thinking the worst? Yes. It’s a natural reaction when a doctor tells you they “saw something.”

Was my doctor overly concerned? He didn’t seem to be, but out of an abundance of caution, he wanted to be sure, and so did I. 

A biopsy was scheduled, I saw a breast surgeon (who was not at all concerned and put my mind slightly at ease), and I waited for the procedure. 

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The biopsy was scarier psychologically, but not painful at all. It took about 30 minutes total and then the dreaded waiting part happened. 

One day later, the call came that it was a benign cyst and everything was OK — I could resume my normal annual mammogram testing schedule. 

Even if it is anxiety-inducing and scary, it’s a necessary and easy test to ensure your breasts are healthy. It’s not a picnic, but it’s not a questionable gas station hot dog either!

Take care of your boobs.

For more info or resources on mammograms, visit the American Cancer Society or the Mayo Clinic


Did you know what to expect at a mammogram? Tell us your thoughts in the comments!

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