A mammogram is an important step in taking care of yourself and your breasts. Mammograms can often show a breast lump before it can be felt. For this reason, women 40 and older should have mammograms every 1 or 2 years. Even women who have no symptoms and no known risks for breast cancer should have regularly scheduled mammograms to help detect potential breast cancer at the earliest possible time. Knowing what to expect when getting a mammogram may help you navigate the process more smoothly.

A mammogram is a low-dose x-ray that allows specialists to look for changes in breast tissue that aren’t normal. The American Cancer Society recommends that starting at age 40 women at average risk should have the choice to begin yearly mammograms. Women should begin yearly mammograms at age 45, and they can switch to every 2 years at age 55. All women, no matter their age, need to let their doctor know about any changes to their breasts. Talk to your medical provider about the breast screening plan that is best for you.

Where to go: Here in the Upper Susitna Valley, Providence Imaging Center has scheduled their Mobile Mammography coach at both Sunshine offices in Talkeetna and Willow throughout the year. Check our events calendar for specific dates.

Give Providence Imaging Center a call at (907) 212-6266 or toll free at (888) 458-3151 to schedule for one of those dates.

When to schedule: It’s best to schedule your mammogram for the week after your menstrual period. Your breasts won’t be tender or swollen, which means less discomfort during the x-ray and a clearer picture.

What (and what not) to wear: Wear a 2-piece outfit because you will need to remove your top and bra. Do not apply deodorant, antiperspirant, powder, lotion, or ointment on or around your chest on the day of your mammogram. These products can appear as white spots on the x-ray.

What to expect: The entire procedure takes about 20 minutes. The breast is compressed for a few seconds while an x-ray picture is taken. The breast is repositioned (and compressed again) to take another view. This is then done on the other breast. Flattening the breast tissue, while uncomfortable for some women, provides a clearer view of the breast and lessens the amount of radiation needed to take an x-ray picture.

Getting the results: You should get your results within 30 days. If you don’t, you should call to ask about them. If doctors find something suspicious, you’ll likely be contacted within a week to take new pictures or get other tests. But that doesn’t mean you have cancer. A suspicious finding may be just dense breast tissue or a cyst. Other times, the image just isn’t clear and needs to be retaken. If this is your first mammogram, your doctor may want to look at an area more closely simply because there is no previous mammogram for comparison.

What you pay: Under the Affordable Care Act, Medicare and almost all private insurance plans now cover annual mammograms, with no co-pay or other out-of-pocket costs. Medicaid also covers mammograms. For uninsured or low-income women, free or low-cost programs are available. Some programs are held during Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October, while others are offered year-round. Call the American Cancer Society at 1-800-227-2345 to find a program near you.

Read the National Breast Cancer Foundation’s complete recommendations for early detection of breast cancer.

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