Mammograms are one of the most important breast cancer screening tools available today. Why are mammograms so important? Because they save lives. According to the American Cancer Society, when breast cancer is detected early, and is in the localized stage, the 5-year relative survival rate is 99%. Mammograms are the key to early detection.
There are two types of mammograms:
- Screening mammogram: Women who are 40 years old and over who have no known breast cancer risk factors and are not experiencing any signs or symptoms of breast cancer should receive a screening mammogram once a year.
- Diagnostic mammogram: Women whose initial screening mammogram results showed something abnormal, those who are at increased risk of developing breast cancer, or women who are experiencing signs or symptoms of breast cancer should receive a diagnostic mammogram. Check with your healthcare provider to determine which type of mammogram and screening timeline is recommended for you.
Whether you are preparing for a screening mammogram or a diagnostic mammogram, knowing what to expect and how to prepare is essential to the successful completion of this important screening. There are several mammogram prep tips to keep in mind as you prepare for your mammogram. After you read the tips below, print our Mammogram Prep Checklist or check it off on your device as you prepare for your mammogram.
How to prepare before your mammogram
Discuss recent changes or problems in your breasts with your healthcare provider
Any time you experience a change in shape, size, or texture, or feel a lump in either breast or surrounding area, you should see your healthcare provider to discuss the changes and determine the next steps to take.
If you are experiencing breast changes, your doctor will likely recommend you receive a diagnostic mammogram.
While it is important to keep in mind that most breast changes or breast lumps are not cancer, all changes and lumps should be investigated quickly and thoroughly.
Choose the right facility
If it is time to receive your annual screening mammogram, or if your healthcare provider has recommended you receive a diagnostic mammogram, do not put off scheduling this important screening.
You should choose an imaging facility that specializes in mammograms and does many mammograms a day.
Also try to choose a facility that offers 3D mammograms, or tomosynthesis. This type of modern mammogram detects cancer more accurately than older X-ray analog mammograms.
Some women may face barriers when it comes to scheduling or receiving a mammogram, such as finding a mammogram facility near them, being able to afford a mammogram, or even knowing what to say when scheduling.
Read How to Schedule a Mammogram for a list of free or low-cost mammogram facilities and other tips on how to receive your mammogram in a timely manner. Or search the FDA Mammogram Facilities database using your zip code to find a mammogram facility near you.
Schedule your mammogram when your breasts are the least tender or swollen
Due to naturally occurring hormone fluctuations within the body, many women experience tender or swollen breasts at some point during their monthly menstrual cycle.
To ease unnecessary discomfort during your mammogram, avoid scheduling your mammogram the week before and during your period, when your breasts are in their most tender state.
If possible, try to schedule your mammogram for one to two weeks after your period starts.
For more tips on how to advocate for your best, most comfortable mammogram experience, read 4 Things to Share at Your Next Mammogram.
Gather your documents
Below is a list of documents to have on hand when you are preparing to schedule your mammogram.
You should also take these documents with you to your mammogram appointment:
- Proof of identification, such as a driver’s license or government-issued ID card
- Proof of address, if required by your mammogram facility
- Health insurance card or policy information, if applicable
- Household income information (if you are receiving a free or low-cost mammogram, you may be required to provide documentation of your household income)
Prepare prior mammogram images and information
If you have had previous mammograms but are going to a new facility for your upcoming mammogram, be sure to request in advance your previous mammogram images and reports from your prior mammogram facility.
Sometimes the old facility will be able to digitally send your images and reports to the new facility, but in some cases, you may have to pick up the physical copies to deliver to the new facility.
Make sure your new facility receives the following information before your scheduled appointment:
- List of dates and places of previous mammograms
- Images or films, including written reports, of mammograms you have received before
- Images and reports from any other breast procedures you’ve had done before, such as ultrasounds or biopsies
How to prepare the day of your mammogram
There are often strict guidelines to follow on the day of your mammogram. Check with your mammogram facility for any specific guidelines they may have, and follow the best practices listed below.
Don’t use any deodorant or other health and beauty products before your mammogram
Wearing certain health and beauty products on the day of your mammogram can interfere with the mammogram reading.
On the day of your mammogram, avoid applying the following types of products to your breasts, chest, and underarms:
If you already have deodorant or other products applied to your breasts, chest, or underarms on the day of your appointment, remove it with soap and water before your mammogram. However, if you are unable to shower or bathe before your appointment, don’t worry—the mammogram facility will have wipes available for you to remove any products from your body.
Consider pain medication
Because mammograms apply pressure to the breasts and surrounding tissue, some discomfort is to be expected.
However, keep in mind that this discomfort will only last for a few seconds at a time. If you are worried about experiencing pain during your mammogram, or if you have experienced pain during a previous mammogram, talk to your doctor about taking an over-the-counter pain medication about 1 hour before your mammogram.
You can also ask if your mammogram facility provides mammogram cushions. These cushions are placed on the surface of the image detector and can help provide more comfort during the screening.
Wear a two-piece outfit and comfortable shoes
You will only need to remove your top and bra for a mammogram. Therefore, it is best to wear a two-piece outfit, such as an easily removable shirt with pants, shorts, or a skirt.
You will also be standing (if there aren’t any physical limitations) during the mammogram, so wearing comfortable shoes as opposed to high heels is also recommended.
Don’t wear any neck jewelry
You will need to remove any neck jewelry and long earrings for the mammogram. Leave jewelry at home to avoid the risk of losing it.
You can eat and drink as you normally would
Some people ask if they need to avoid eating or drinking before their mammograms.
It is not necessary to avoid food or drink before your mammogram, so eat or drink as you normally would the day of your appointment.
Take your daily medications
If you take daily medications, or are on some sort of medication regimen, you can and should take your medications as you normally would on the day of your appointment.
During your appointment, you may be asked about any medications you take, so be prepared to list your medications and dosages to the facility nurse or technician if you are asked.
Share important information with your mammogram technician
It is important that you communicate the following information to your mammogram technician before the screening begins:
- Any breast changes or problems you are experiencing
- If you have breast implants
- If you have trouble standing or holding still (without a cane or walker)
- If you are breastfeeding
- If you are or think you might be pregnant
FAQs about how to prepare for a mammogram
Can I take a shower before a mammogram?
Yes, you can shower or bathe before a mammogram. Just remember to not apply any antiperspirants, deodorants, lotions, creams, powders, perfumes, or cosmetics to your breasts, chest, or underarms after showering or bathing.
Can I use soap before a mammogram?
Yes, you can use soap in the shower or bath as you normally would before a mammogram. Just remember not to apply the following products to the breasts, chest, or underarms after a shower or bath: antiperspirants, deodorants, lotions, creams, powders, perfumes, or cosmetics.
Can I shave my armpits before a mammogram?
Yes, you can shave your armpits before a mammogram. Just remember not to apply antiperspirants or deodorants to your armpits before your mammogram.
Can I put lotion on my face or body before a mammogram?
You can apply lotion to your face and parts of your body except your breasts, chest, and underarms before a mammogram.
Can I wear makeup to my mammogram?
You can wear makeup on your face to your mammogram. Do not apply makeup or other cosmetics to your breasts, chest, or underarms before your mammogram.
Can I use hairspray before a mammogram?
Yes, you can use hairspray and other hair products before your mammogram. Just be careful that it does not spray on your breasts, chest, or underarms while you are applying it.
Can I get a mammogram while on my period?
Yes, you can get a mammogram while you are on your period. However, keep in mind that women’s breasts are at their most tender the week before and during their period, which could cause discomfort during the screening. If possible, try to schedule your mammogram for one to two weeks after your period starts.
Mammograms are the key to early detection. Take the NBCF Mammo Pledge today to encourage yourself and your loved ones to prioritize their breast health in the coming year!
For more details on what to expect and how to prepare for a mammogram, download our free eBook, Mammogram 101.
NBCF is here to provide help and inspire hope to those affected by breast cancer through early detection, education, and support services. If you want additional information on how to prepare for a mammogram, or need other support, please leave a comment below.