What to expect before your first mammogram

Ask the Expert

GREENVILLE, S.C. (WSPA) – One in 8 women in America will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

October is always a significant month for Your Carolina Co-host Megan Heidlberg, whose mother, BJ Nash, was diagnosed with breast cancer 6 years ago after having a routine mammogram.

“October will always be when my middle child was born. It was when mom had her surgery. It’s appropriate that it’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month and she was one of the lucky ones,” Heidlberg said. “They caught it early, she had surgery, she’s going on 6 years and shes rocking and rolling.”

With that family history in mind, Megan decided it was time for her first mammogram as she approached the age of 40.

“Sometimes ignorance is bliss, and I think that’s why some people put things off because maybe they’re scared to hear some kind of news,” she said. “Whatever happens is going to happen, and I’d rather be prepared and know sooner rather than later.”

At the Pearlie Harris Center for Breast Health, radiologist Dr. Matthew Chaney says many procrastinate out of fear of diagnosis, radiation or that the procedure will be painful.

“The medical risks of radiation from a mammogram are essentially zero,” he said. “The vast majority of the time, when I see the patients after their mammogram, they say, ‘That was so much easier, that was nothing. I was worried for nothing,'” he said.

Mammogram procedures involve first answering a short set of questions about your personal medical history and your family members, he explained. Then, technologists take a set of 4 or more images which each take about 10 seconds. Dr. Chaney said the entire process usually takes less than half an hour.

Heidlberg said, “It was much easier than I thought it would be, and they really make you feel like you are the only one who has ever gone through this and that you are really special.”

Heidlberg discussed the process in greater detail on Your Carolina with Pearlie Harris Center for Breast Health’s Lead Mammographer Jessica Mitchum.

Dr. Chaney said about one third of the patients who go in for their first mammogram are called back for a second appointment for additional scanning, but said not to panic if that happens to you.

“The vast majority of patients that come back for additional views end up being normal and you go home with a good report,” he said. “Only one out of 10 of those will end up needing a needle biopsy and only a small portion of those who have biopsies, which would be like less than one third, end up having cancer.”

If your family has a history of breast cancer, Dr. Chaney recommends checking in with your primary care doctor at age 30 to decide when you should have your first mammogram. Dr. Chaney recommends that all women have an annual mammogram starting at age 40.

For more information about breast cancer, click here.

If you’d like to submit a health question for our series, click here.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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