A Girlfriend's Guide to your First Mammogram

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A Girlfriend's Guide to your First Mammogram | UnityPoint Health - Des Moines

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A Girlfriend's Guide to your First Mammogram

You know it is important to get an annual mammogram starting at age 40 or when your health care provider recommends it for you. However, that’s easier said than done. We, women, have a lot going on between family, work, friends and volunteer commitments (just to name a few!) which means there are a lot of things vying for our time – and interfering with getting that yearly mammogram on our calendars. In addition, the very fact it’s a mammogram kind of puts it a little lower on our things to do list because it’s just not as much fun as going out with friends! I mean, right?

A few years ago, it was time for my first mammogram. Working in health care, I knew the many reasons why getting a mammogram was so important. And, I have several friends who had already had mammograms and could answer any question I may have. It should have been easy for me to schedule and get my mammogram done. But, that was not the case.

When I turned 40, my health care provider even reminded me of my annual exam to get in and get my baseline mammogram. Well…11 months later…I finally got my mammogram scheduled and done. And, the only reason I did was that I was going to see my provider again the following month and knew she would ask me about why I had not done it yet.

So, why did I wait so long? I don’t really know for sure. I know I was nervous about it and just wasn’t sure what to expect. Even now – years later – I put off this appointment as long as I can. Even though I know what to expect, it doesn’t make it any more fun. It’s a little embarrassing, but in my experience, the tech has always been incredibly kind and caring and typically visits with me the whole time about kids, work, you name it. We stay so busy chatting – until I have to hold my breath – that the appointment goes quickly.

And, most importantly, I need to do this. I need to do this for my family, my friends and for me! This simple test could save my life. I need to be healthy. I need to know my body and what’s going on with it. There are people who depend on me, and I want to be here for them. I love my son and daughter and want to be here for them as they play soccer and dance. I love my husband and want to celebrate many anniversaries together. Therefore, I can endure a few minutes of slight embarrassment and a little squeeze to be sure I’m staying healthy and well.

- Jennifer Ellis, mother of two, wife and friend who wants you to get a mammogram

How Do I Prepare for a Mammogram?

Here are a couple of things that you can do ahead of time to make sure your mammogram goes smoothly:

  • If it is common for your breasts to become sore or tender around your menstrual cycle, you might want to avoid scheduling a mammogram during that time frame.
  • Pack a bag with any deodorant, lotion or other powders you usually wear, as you aren’t allowed to wear any of these things during a mammogram.
  • Ask questions. When you schedule your exam, feel free to ask questions so that you know what to expect. Knowing what to expect will help to alleviate some of your worries.

What Happens When I Go to My Mammogram Appointment?

You don’t need to have nerves of steel to make it through your mammogram! Calm your nerves by knowing what to expect.

  • When you get to the lab, you will be given a hospital gown and asked to change into it.
  • Once you are called back into the room, the X-ray technologist will ask you simple questions about yourself.
  • This is a good time to mention if you have any concerning lumps or if you have had surgery or breast implants.
  • Sometimes, the technologist will place stickers on your nipples and moles to make them easier to identify in the images.
  • The technologist will have you stand in front of the machine and adjust it to your height. They’ll ask you to remove one of your breasts from your gown at a time.
  • You will be asked to lean in towards the “shelf” on the machine, so the technologist can place your breast in the right place.
  • The technologist will gently place a “plate,” usually made of light plastic, on top of your breast. You will be asked to hold your breath while the machine compresses your breast for only a few seconds. Once the picture is done, the compression releases. This is the aspect of a mammogram that many women consider to be uncomfortable. You have every right to speak up if the discomfort is too much. Your technologist will adjust you to make the process as comfortable as possible.
  • The technologist will take four images of your breasts, which means four different moments of being adjusted, squeezed and then released unless you are getting 3D mammography.
  • A 3D mammogram will compress each breast once and take several images as the machine moves over your breast in an arch. With both 3D and traditional mammograms, extra image views may be necessary.
  • Once you return to the waiting room, don’t change back into your top. After reviewing the images, the technologist may call you back for additional pictures.
  • Once you’re done, the technologist will tell you that you are free to change and leave.

The results will then be sent to your primary provider for review, and they will contact you directly with your results.

It’s easy to put off your mammogram, but the truth is that mammograms save lives. Talk with your primary care provider about when you should start scheduling your annual mammogram. If you don't have a primary care physician, now is a great opportunity to use our Find a Doctor tool to locate a provider in your area.