There is a great scene from Ellen, starring Ellen DeGeneres, about her first mammogram, and it’s a conglomeration of every joke you’ve ever heard about mammograms – smooshed breasts, cold machines and mammogram techs who are laissez faire about their work. It’s great, and we recommend you watch it and smile.
In the meantime, preparing for your mammogram can be a little scary. First of all, who wants squished breasts? And, how squished are they? And, do you really need a mammogram already? And, is there anything you need to know or do beforehand?
7 Things You Should Know to Prepare For Your First Mammogram
As with all things in life, the more you know, the better prepared you’ll be and the less nervous you’ll feel before and during the mammogram process.
Here are 7 things you should know before going in for your first mammogram.
#1 Don’t put it off because mammograms really do save lives
Mammograms do save lives because, ideally, they help to catch breast cancer while it’s in its early stages. According to the Susan G. Komen Foundation, recent research shows mammograms are more instrumental in saving lives the older you get.
If you are younger (50-years old or less), have a conversation with your doctor regarding whether or not a mammogram is necessary. Typically, women with a family history of breast cancer (especially if your mother, sister or daughter was diagnosed), or who have dense breast tissue (which can make it more difficult to discern lumps or irregular tissue) are advised to have a mammogram sooner rather than later.
Speak with your doctor and determine what makes the most sense for you. If you opt not to have a mammogram, be diligent about performing monthly breast exams on yourself, and observe your annual wellness visits where a breast exam should be performed by a licensed medical professional.
#2 Schedule it the week after your period and in the earlier part of the day
It’s true that your breast will be pressed fairly flat – and with a certain degree of pressure – in order for the image to be as comprehensive and accurate as possible. Breast are the most tender the week leading up to and during your period. Scheduling it for the week after your period will keep discomfort to a minimum.
Also, you aren’t supposed to wear any deodorant, lotion or antiperspirant before the mammogram as the residue can skew the screening results. Scheduling your appointment in the morning means you can put deodorant and any other toiletry/beauty items on after your mammogram is complete.
#3 Wear a top and bottom, rather than a dress
You will have to remove your top for the mammogram. They’ll give you one of those medical gowns that opens completely on one side, but odds are that will be removed – or mostly removed – when it’s time to get the image of your breast. If you wear a dress, you’ll be left even more exposed. An outfit that includes a top and a bottom – rather than one piece – is the way to go.
#4 Yes, it can hurt a bit
Did you watch the Ellen video above? That is a real mammogram machine and the routine about the arm here and the moving your body up against the machine, and the flattening of the breast – all that is realistic too (minus comedy sketch writing).
In most cases, if a mammogram is scheduled after your period, during the time in your cycle where breasts are the least sensitive, a mammogram is simply uncomfortable. If you are experiencing any breast swelling or tenderness, it might hurt a little but that is rarer unless you are sensitive to pain in general. Excruciating pain during a mammogram is incredibly rare.
#5 Choose a location that handles mammograms on a regular basis
The key to having a mammogram you feel good about is to schedule it at a facility that specializes in mammograms and handles them all the time. The techs there are experienced and will provide you with compassionate care.
Be honest if you are nervous or scared, and/or that it’s your first time to have a mammogram. Communicating your feelings to the technician will cause her to slow down and make sure you know what’s happening when, so you aren’t so nervous and so you feel included in the process.
Here is a video that provides a very accurate depiction of what it’s like to get a mammogram.
#6 Try to go back to the same place
If possible, it’s good to return to the same radiology center or mammogram screening location because they have immediate access to your previous images and can easily compare them with the current image(s). If you’re going somewhere new, let them know where you had mammograms in the past (dates and contact info are helpful) so they can review those records if necessary.
#7 Don’t panic if they say they need additional images
The technician might say they need to take more or better pictures, and this is completely normal. Perhaps you sneezed, coughed, shifted positions or breathed when she took the picture – all of which can lead to a cloudy image that need to be recaptured. Women with large breasts or dense breast tissue may have more images taken so the radiologist has multiple images to review, leading to a more accurate, overall assessment.
Are you interested in learning more about mammograms or wondering whether it’s necessary for you this year? Schedule an appointment with Overlake and we’ll let you know our recommendations based on your family history, personal medical, history and/or other risk factors.
image by By Cancer Research UK