Raise your hand if you’re excited about your first mammogram!
While it may not be high on bucket list, there are a few different reasons to get a mammogram:
- You’re 40 years old or older (guidelines vary)
- You have a family history of breast cancer
- Your doctor recommended it
I can’t say it was something I was eager to get, but since my doctor recommended it (and I am now the ripe old age of 40), I went ahead and scheduled my first mammogram.
I had my mammogram done at Mercy Hospital in Cedar Rapids, in the Women’s Center. While your experience may differ at other locations, some things are going to be the same: it’s uncomfortable, it’s awkward, and you’ll be glad when it’s over.
It’s Mammogram Time!
On the day of my appointment I arrived a few minutes early to park and have time to fill out any paperwork. I was called back quickly to a dressing room, where I was given a warm hospital cape. It is short (it hung down to my belly button), has one snap in the front, and is fairly open so the ultrasound tech can move it out of the way easily. I removed everything on the top half of my body and buttoned on my cape.
Tip #1- don’t wear a dress or a one piece outfit like a pantsuit, or you’ll be sitting for your mammogram in your underwear.
Tip #2-You can’t wear deodorant for a mammogram, so either schedule yours early or bring deodorant to apply afterwards, as you’ll be given a special wipe to remove any you might be wearing.
The tech then brought me into the room for the mammogram. Though I had read about it, I was not mentally prepared for the amount of manhandling that was done to my body. To get all the needed views, your breasts are fully on display and moved around to various spots by the tech. Remember that they have seen all manner of bodies and no one is judging you, but it is still kind of hard not to be self-conscious as you are maneuvered and posed.
Next came the part you’ve heard about– pancake time! My breasts were flattened with as much pressure as I could withstand (somewhere between 15-18 lbs at a time), and I had to hold very still as the machine worked. I thought it was just one picture per side, but they actually do several different angles, so it’s more like 2-3 times per side. Once the mammogram finished, I was able to dress and leave.
The big question you are probably asking is “did it hurt?”
Well, yes and no. The actual mammogram was more uncomfortable than painful, but my chest muscles above my breasts were quite sore that afternoon and into the next day.
Tip #3- Taking ibuprofen BEFORE the mammogram can help alleviate some of this. Doctors also recommend scheduling your mammogram the week after your period when breasts are less likely to be tender.
The next day, I received a call back from the Women’s Center. I was warned ahead of time that many first-timers get called back, just because there is nothing to compare your results to. 40% of women also have dense breast tissue, which can make results harder to read. I fall into that 40% (lucky me!), and there were two suspicious spots on my mammogram. So, I had to go back for further testing.
I tried not to panic, but went ahead and did it all over again. This time I got even more pictures, and even had to get an ultrasound after all that. Finally, the radiologist told me these spots were most likely benign, but that they want me to come back in six months to make sure nothing has changed. Sure, going through the extra testing wasn’t fun, but I’m glad to have the peace of mind that for now, I have nothing to worry about.
Many women delay mammograms because of fear, either of the discomfort, or of finding a problem.
While mammogram testing isn’t perfect (younger women are especially likely to have a false positive) annual mammograms remain the best option for detecting cancer early and reducing the risk of death from breast cancer (source).
So, if your doctor tells you it’s time for your first mammogram, don’t delay. Make that appointment to go in and get squished, then treat yourself to an ice cream, a new top, or a massage.
Taking care of your health is worth it!
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