Turning 40? A guide on all you need to know about getting a mammogram

After 40, women should get a mammogram once in every five years  (Unsplash/National Cancer Institute)
After 40, women should get a mammogram once in every five years (Unsplash/National Cancer Institute)


With breast cancer emerging as one of the leading causes of death in women worldwide, a mammogram is an effective tool to detect and fight the disease early

Did you know that breast cancer is the most common cancer among women, affecting about 1 in 8 in their lifetime? According to a WHO study released in March this year, around 2.3 million women were diagnosed with breast cancer in 2022, and the number is estimated to rise to 3 million by 2040. Indian celebrities such as the veteran beauty Mumtaz, filmmaker and author Tahira Kashyap, and actor Mahima Chowdhury have battled this debilitating disease. Early detection is critical to stem cancer growth, and one powerful tool in the fight is the mammogram, which is the x-ray of the breast.

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Now, the idea of getting your first mammogram might seem shrouded in mystery and cause apprehension. It isn't so. Lounge spoke to experts to shed light on the process, offer tips to make your first mammogram a breeze, and guide you on how to stay breast cancer-aware.

The Basics

Breast cancer can be detected early if proper examination and specific tests are done regularly, especially once you turn 40. Certain gynaecological investigations and tests such as a pelvic examination, pap smear, and breast examination become more crucial for women's health as they approach the age of forty, says Dr. Sireesha Reddy, senior consultant obstetrician & gynaecologist in Motherhood Hospitals, Hebbal, Bengaluru. “Mammogram screening is necessary starting at age 40. Women should consider getting mammograms once every 5 years to screen for breast cancer. In case, there is a family history of breast cancer, it should be done more often," Reddy says.

Preparing for Your First Mammogram

While it's a routine procedure, a mammogram can be an unfamiliar and even intimidating experience for many women. If you're approaching your first mammogram, it's natural to have questions about what to expect. Reddy proposes preparing well for a mammogram for a smooth and effective experience. Here, she lists out the things you should and shouldn't do.

The Dos

1. Schedule wisely: While choosing a date for your mammogram, it is ideal to do it during a phase when your breasts are least likely to be tender. Avoid scheduling the appointment during your menstrual period, when the breasts may be more sensitive.

Explaining why the timing of the mammogram is crucial, Dr. Rohan Palshetkar, gynaecologist and head of unit at Bloom IVF, Mumbai says, “You should do the mammogram before or after your menstrual period, rather than during. This is because breast tissue tends to be less tender and swollen at these times. Also, during menstruation, hormonal changes can cause breast tissue to become more sensitive. This can make the mammogram more uncomfortable and potentially affect the accuracy of the results."

2. Wear comfortable clothing: Wear a two-piece outfit on the day of the mammogram, as you will need to undress from the waist up.

3. Communicate your concerns: Inform the (mammography) technologist if you have breast implants, are pregnant, or have any breast-related concerns. This information will help ensure the procedure is performed safely and accurately.

4. Relax: While it is normal to feel anxious before a mammogram, try to stay relaxed during the procedure. The technologist performing the mammogram will guide you through the process and address any concerns you may have.

The Don'ts

1. Don't wear jewellery: Avoid wearing necklaces, earrings, or any other jewellery that may interfere with the mammogram images. Metal objects can obscure the view or cause artifacts in the images.

2. Don't use deodorant, perfume, or lotion: Refrain from applying deodorant, perfume, lotion or powder to your chest area on the day of the mammogram. These substances can contain particles that may appear on the images and affect the quality of the examination.

3. Don't hesitate to ask questions: If you have questions about the mammogram procedure or what to expect, don't hesitate to ask the healthcare provider or technologist. They are there to ensure your comfort and address any concerns.

What to Expect in your First Mammogram

Your first mammogram can evoke many emotions, from anxiety and apprehension to curiosity and worry. Understanding the procedure and clarifying doubts can go a long way in alleviating any concerns.

Palshetkar helps understand this process. “In a mammogram examination, you will be asked to undress to take an x-ray of the breast. Do not worry about privacy as it's just going to be you in the room along with the technician. Your breast will be flattened for about 10-15 seconds for the imaging. If it's a 3-D image the machine will move in an arc. The total time for the procedure isn't more than 10-20 mins," Palshetkar explains. If you feel discomfort, inform the technician and they will adjust the compression, he says. “Women with larger breasts or implants may require more time for the procedure to obtain an ideal image," he adds.

Now that you have ample information about what a mammogram entails, here are some extra tips that could help you sail through your first mammogram.

  • Be prepared for discomfort: Mammograms involve breast compression, which can be uncomfortable for some women. However, the discomfort is usually brief and tolerable.
  • Ask questions: Don't hesitate to ask questions before, during, or after the procedure if unsure.
  • Follow-up: After your mammogram, follow any recommendations from your healthcare provider regarding further evaluation or screening.
  • Stay consistent: Make mammograms a regular part of your healthcare routine. Follow the recommended screening guidelines for your age and risk factors.

Reddy rounds it up well when she says, “Mammogram is an essential tool for detecting breast cancer early when treatment is most effective. By getting your first mammogram and continuing regular screenings, you're taking an important step in caring for your health."

Shweta Dravid is a self -confessed explorer who writes on travel, health, wellness, mindfulness and life truths.

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