Your First Mammogram, Explained

This article is sponsored by MercyOne Des Moines Medical Center.

MammogramIt’s normal for women to be nervous or hesitant before their mammogram. Here’s a quick guide to help you understand what your first mammogram will be like.

What happens at a mammogram appointment?

First, you will fill out your breast health history for the technologist, answering questions about your personal health, as well as any pertinent family breast health history. After that, your technologist will get you changed into a gown, and escort you into a mammogram room.

Your technologist will explain the exam to you in detail. They typically take anywhere between 4-8 images on your first mammogram. Your breast will be in compression during each picture. This should not hurt you – it’s more of a tight, heavy feeling on your breast that will only last for a few seconds. As soon as the image is acquired, the compression paddle will automatically release up and off your breast.

The technologist is able to review each image as soon as it is done to ensure they have a diagnostic quality image to review. In the event there is any motion, skin folds, or other artifacts noticed by the technologist, they are able to take additional images while you are there. Once all of your imaging is complete, you are free to leave. The whole appointment takes about 10 minutes—it’s quick and easy!

The technologist will submit your exam to the radiologist who will then interpret your exam and send an official report to your provider. You will automatically receive a letter in the mail as well with your results.

In the event you receive a callback, meaning the radiologist is requesting additional imaging, you will be called and notified and assisted in scheduling a follow-up appointment. 

Reminders for your first mammogram

  • Bring your photo ID and insurance card
  • Avoid wearing lotion, deodorant or powder prior to your test

What to do in-between mammogram appointments?


To stay breast aware, practice monthly self-breast exams and yearly clinical breast exams with your provider. Self-breast exams are when you check and feel for any changes within your breasts – new lumps, skin dimpling, or nipple retraction and nipple discharge. Any change you notice, you should alert your provider right away for a clinical evaluation or order diagnostic imaging of your breast.

Another aspect of breast awareness is knowing your breast density. Breast density describes the different types of breast tissues and affects visibility of any underlying masses. 3D imaging helps to remove overlying tissue and helps the doctor “see through” the dense tissue layer by layer – kind of like turning pages in a book.

No matter your breast density, it is important to have annual screening mammograms. Every woman in Iowa is told their breast density with their mammogram screening. Education on breast density allows women to be aware of what their breasts feel like and to be able to notice if there are any changes.

How does family history play into when you should get your first mammogram?

It’s recommended to begin screening mammography at 40-years-old unless you have previous breast cancer in your family. If you have relatives with history, like a parent, sibling or aunt, it’s recommended to begin screening 10 years before the age breast cancer was diagnosed in that relative. It is not recommended to begin screening before age 30. For example, if your mom was diagnosed at age 43, you would begin annual mammograms at age 33. If your sister was diagnosed at age 33, you would begin at age 30. 

Breast cancer does not care who you are or where you come from. It can happen to anyone, at any time and at any age. By implementing screening mammography, we have improved detection which is saving lives! There are things women can do to decrease their risk of developing breast cancer such as maintaining a healthy weight, exercising and not smoking. Breast cancer is treatable, especially if diagnosed early.

About the author

Trish Steenhoek, RT(R)(M)CN-BI, is a mammography care coordinator and breast imaging navigator at MercyOne. She’s been in the breast imaging department since 2005 and a navigator since 2014. She works closely with the radiologists, breast surgeons and technologists at MercyOne Katzmann Breast Center and MercyOne Comfort Health Center for Women.

Connect with MercyOne Des Moines Medical Center

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Twitter: @MercyOneDSM

Facebook: @mercyonedesmoines

Instagram: @mercyone_iowa

This article is part of a series of sponsored articles by MercyOne Des Moines Medical Center

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