calendar showing mammography appointment

Mammograms don’t hurt and just might save your life

“That’s it?”

“That was no big deal.”

“Why didn’t I do that sooner?”

“I can’t believe I waited so long!”

These are the most common statements Allison Gleason hears from women right after their first mammogram. They’re relieved and usually feeling a little silly about having been afraid of the screening in the first place.

But fear is a common cause of women holding off getting their first mammogram.

“I think it’s a fear of the unknown and a fear that comes from what they hear from other women,” said Gleason, supervisor of the Women’s Center mammography program at OSF HealthCare Saint Anthony Medical Center. “Women often hear about how bad it hurts. Then, usually after you take the first picture they’ll start laughing and say, ‘Is that it?’

“It’s not as bad as you heard.”

It’s quick, easy and shouldn’t hurt

A normal breast cancer screening consists of four pictures – two from side views and two from the front view, and the mammogram itself takes less than 10 minutes, Gleason said. The images should get everything from the clavicle to the middle of the chest. There are some questions to answer and some paperwork to fill out beforehand, so the whole thing takes about 20 minutes.

physician performing a mammogram

A key thing to understand is it should not hurt. It is uncomfortable – after all, the machine compresses the breasts to see through the layers of tissue, Gleason said – but it shouldn’t be a painful experience.

“If you’re experiencing pain, you should definitely say something so the tech can adjust what they’re doing,” Gleason said.

At OSF Saint Anthony, she added, the team is very sympathetic to women who are going through their first mammogram and are scared.

“Really talk to your mammography tech,” Gleason suggested for mammogram first-timers. “Let them know you’re having anxiety, it’s your first one and you don’t know what to expect. We’ll walk you through it, try to calm you down, explain it all as it happens.”

The Women’s Center team also offers to call patients as soon as possible to let them know the results. For women who get the test done in the morning, that call can come as early as that afternoon, providing quicker peace of mind for women who are scared of the uncertainty of not knowing what the test revealed.

Screening makes a difference

It is recommended for women to get screened for breast cancer annually beginning at age 40. Screening is vital to catching breast cancer early, before it can spread. When breast cancer is detected early, treatments for the disease are less invasive and typically lead to better outcomes.

Visit our breast health page to learn more.