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First Mammogram?

If you’ve never had a mammogram or chest wall exam, you may have a few questions.

How do I find a provider?

Unlike primary care appointments, mammography takes place in special accredited facilities. Some of these facilities are called “mammography centers” and some may be general radiology centers.

How do I set up an appointment?

You can call the mammography or radiology center of your choice directly; you do not need a primary care office to set up the appointment. Sometimes insurance and demographic information will be collected when you call to schedule; sometimes this is done at the time of the first appointment.

What should I do to prepare for my mammogram or chest wall exam?

  • Family history: Learn your family history of breast cancer. If you don’t already know it, ask family members before the appointment so you can tell your doctor.
  • Self-Exam: Conduct a self exam and let the mammographic/radiologist know if you feel any irregularities.
  • Avoid Caffeine: To reduce breast tenderness during the exam, avoid or limit caffeine up to two weeks before your mammogram.
  • Take a deep breath: Consider using mindfulness techniques to prepare for or to manage any distress.

How do I find the right mammography center?

  • You can get a recommendation from your primary care provider.
  • Ask around. Get recommendations from friends, family and other community members.
  • Use our guide, which has a list of mammogram providers evaluated and trained by our Institute.
  • Find out if mammography is commonly done at the facility. Mammography centers that do many mammograms everyday are generally better than those that do not specialize in mammography.

Do I need a referral from a primary care physician to schedule an appointment?

  • Beginning at age 40 you do not need a referral from a primary care physician to schedule a mammogram or chest wall.
  • Before age 40 you will need a referral from a primary care physician to schedule a mammogram or chest wall. If you fall into this age group and are concerned about any irregularities related to your breast/chest health, schedule an appointment with a primary care physician.

What should I know before I go?

Your rights: The 2010 Affordable Care Act has a nondiscrimination provision (Section 1557) which dictates that services and care must be equally available to all patients, regardless of gender identity, sexual orientation, race, color, and national origin. For example: This provision means that if a provider offers mammograms to cis women, they must do the same for trans women.

  • Your LGBTQ Identity: While many physicians regularly ask questions related to sexual orientation and gender identity as a part of standardized entrance forms, be prepared to offer this information yourself, as relevant to your care.
  • Clothing: You will have to undress to the waist, so many people find it easier to wear a top and separate bottoms.
  • Parking: When scheduling an appointment, check with the staff member to find out what parking options are available.
  • Support: While you may be allowed to bring a partner, family, or friend with you to the appointment, different doctors have different rules about who can be in the exam room with the patient. Confirm with the staff member during scheduling if you will be allowed to bring someone with you into the exam room.
  • Your insurance: Bring your insurance card as well as your ID to your appointment. 

How do I get my results?

You should get your screening results from your medical provider within 10 days. If you do not hear back in that time frame, call your provider or the facility where your mammogram was conducted. The doctor will interpret the report for you and let you know if you need to schedule another follow-up appointment.

I got my result and took appropriate action, when do I need my next mammogram?

If you have received a normal result, continue to follow the screening guidelines recommended here <<link to guidelines page>>. Some other factors that may affect mammogram scheduling include:

  • Previous mammogram result
  • Previous health history
  • Other risk factors

If you receive any kind of abnormal result, follow-up with your health care provider for direction as to when to schedule your next mammogram.

I checked-in, what happens next?
Someone will take you to a private room where you will:

  • Undress above the waist.
  • Remove any jewelry that may affect imaging.
  • Put a sticker on each of your nipples (to aid the imaging process).
  • Put on a wrap provided by the facility.
  • If you feel uncomfortable with staff using the word “breasts,” this would be a good time to tell them to use other language such as “chest.”

Next, a staff member will take you to a mammography imaging room. You and the technologist will be the only two people in the room. A technologist will position your breast/chest in relation to the machine in order to get the clearest and most informative images. They may also mark nipples, scars, or moles with stickers. This is normal.

Depending on the facility and the service you request, you will have either 2D or 3D mammography:

In order to get the highest quality image with a 2D mammography, your breast/chest must be flattened. The technologist will place your breast/chest on the machine’s plate and the plastic upper plate will lower to compress your breast for a few seconds during which the technologist takes a picture. Two images of each breast/chest are taken. For those with large breasts or breast implants more images are sometimes needed. Some people feel some discomfort during the compression. Tell your technologist if it is painful.

With a 3D mammography machine the breast is held between two compression plates, while a robotic arm arcs over taking multiple photos. Like 2D mammography, some people may feel discomfort during compression, but this takes only a few seconds. Tell your technologist if it is painful. (3D mammography is not always fully covered by insurance.)

Regardless of machine, the whole mammography procedure takes about 20 minutes. The compression and imaging take only a few seconds.

After the images are taken, you will go back to a private room to get dressed. The staff working with you will let you know how to check out.

How do I get my results?

You should get your screening results from your medical provider within 10 days. If you do not hear back in that time frame, call your provider or the facility where your mammogram was conducted. The doctor will interpret the report for you and let you know if you need to schedule another follow-up appointment.

I got my result and took appropriate action, when do I need my next mammogram?

If you have received a normal result, continue to follow the screening guidelines recommended here <<link to guidelines page>>. Some other factors that may affect mammogram scheduling include:

  • Previous mammogram result
  • Previous health history
  • Other risk factors

If you receive any kind of abnormal result, follow-up with your health care provider for direction as to when to schedule your next mammogram.