Mammogram Basics

As women, we do things every day to take care of ourselves—eating well, exercising, making (and keeping) important doctor visits, but have you scheduled an annual mammogram? If you’re a woman who is 40 years of age or older or have an elevated risk for developing breast cancer, it’s important to have a routine mammogram every year. With 1 in 8 women in the United States predicted to develop invasive breast cancer over the course of their lifetime, mammograms play a key role in early detection.

The best breast cancer screening methods are high-quality screening mammograms and clinical breast exams. The National Cancer Institute suggests that women regularly perform their breast self-exam (BSE). A BSE can help you discover lumps and abnormalities, but it is important to know it is not unusual for breasts to feel lumpy or uneven, they will also be sore and tender when you are menstruating. Women ages 40-44 have the choice to begin mammograms if they would like, women ages 45-54 should get screening every year and women who are 55 and older should get a mammogram every two years.

Mammograms are performed in a special X-ray machine. Your breast will be placed on a clear plastic plate and another plate will press down from above to flatten the breast for the x-ray. These steps are repeated for the side view. This will happen for both breasts. Every woman’s mammogram will look different because not everyone’s breasts are the same. The procedure may be uncomfortable to some women but it only takes a few moments so the discomfort doesn’t last. The amount of discomfort you will feel depends on your breast sensitivity, the size of your breasts or how they need to be pressed. They will also be sorer if you are about to have or are on your period.

Now that you know more about the mammogram procedure, here are some tips to make your trip to the doctor go smoothly:

  • Avoid scheduling your mammogram during your menstrual cycle when your breasts are more likely to be tender and swollen.
  • Don’t wear any deodorant or perfume to your mammogram as it can show up as white spots on the X-ray.
  • You will be undressed from the waist up so you may want to avoid wearing a dress so you do not have to undress fully.
  • Tell your technician if you’re feeling pain during the procedure. They may be able to reposition you to make it more comfortable.
  • If you’re feeling anxious, bring a friend or loved one with you. Know that it’s normal to feel nervous, but it’s important to not let that prevent you from getting a simple, potentially life-saving test.

If you’re a member of The Health Plan and have questions about your benefits coverage for mammograms, call the Customer Service number located on your THP ID card. You can also call us at 1.800.624.6961 and ask to speak with a customer service representative.