Another bonus of getting older and turning the big 4-0 is having a mammogram. While some women may have one earlier than age 40, with no family history, my first mammogram was scheduled 2 weeks ago.
I wasn’t exactly dreading it, but I couldn’t say I was looking forward to it either. Words like uncomfortable and squished came to mind. I wasn’t really nervous, as I’ve never had any lumps, I do self-exams, and I have an annual exam from my OB.
However, it didn’t go exactly as planned.
I’m not sure how “typical” my visit was, but I wanted to share my experience, so you can be prepared for your first mammogram.
Before your visit
These days, insurance plays a big part in any medical procedure. Contacting your insurance provider before you go to your mammogram is a really great idea.
My primary care doctor sent the order for me to get my mammogram, so I knew that it would be approved by my insurance. What I didn’t realize, however, that there are different types of mammograms.
In the clinic I went to, there is the traditional 2D scan or their newest 3D scan. Obviously, you want the best, but not all insurance companies cover the 3D technology. I wasn’t sure if mine would cover it, so I opted for the regular scan.
Also, check with your clinic about results. Most clinic offer immediate results, so you can leave with peace of mind or prepared for your next step.
My clinic did offer immediate results, so I was happy about that.
There isn’t anything special you need to do before your visit. They do ask, however, that you refrain from wearing any lotions or deodorants.
At my visit
I arrived 15 minutes prior to my appointment to register, and they took me right on time. I don’t know about you, but this isn’t usually the case at doctor’s offices for me. Because it was a breast imaging center, don’t take walk-in appointments, and most procedures are the same, the schedule is a little more reliable day-to-day.
The imaging specialist/technician was the person who called my name, and brought me back to a dressing room and locker. I was able to leave all my personal belongings in the locker, after changing into a robe. I just had to undress from the waist up, with the robe opening in the front.
She then took me into the exam room, and explained everything to me.
She would first do a manual breast exam, and then take images of each breast. Once the images were taken, she would then show them to the Doctor. If they saw anything, they might need to do some follow-up images.
Since it was my first mammogram, these images would be the base for all future images. She wanted to be very thorough. She also didn’t know how fibrous or dense my breast tissue would be, so she couldn’t recommend a 2D or 3D. If you’ll remember from above, I just stuck with the 2D.
The actual mammogram
After she did my manual exam on the table, it was time to head to the mammography machine. I stood in front of it, slipped on arm out, and she guided me to put one of my breasts in between two pieces of hard, clear plastic.
She gave me specific instructions on where to put my other arm, and how to turn my head to the side, so my breast was all the way in. The top piece of plastic then came down for the squishing part. It didn’t hurt, but it was pretty uncomfortable.
She had me hold still, and she took the image.
She then rotated the machine, I reinserted, repositioned my arms, got squished again, and one more image.
Onto the other side.
My second side actually hurt a little bit. I think some of my skin above my breast got a little squished in too. Plus, the nurse said that if you drink caffeine it can make your breasts more sensitive. I had no idea! Need to cut back on all that chocolate I’ve been eating.
After getting all the images, she took them to the doctor for him to inspect. I actually never saw him, so I’m not sure that he was even in the office, or they just send the images to his location. I just sat back near my locker in a private waiting area and read a book.
The doctor did end up seeing something in my scans, so they had to do the 3D anyways. Luckily, since he ordered it, it was now covered by insurance.
The 3D scan was exactly like the first time, so it wasn’t any big deal…except for the fact that I was now a little worried. They did think it was a cyst, but my breasts were very fibrous/dense, so they wanted to be sure. The imaging specialist/technician was very reassuring that they were just being very thorough since it was my first images.
Once again, I waited in the waiting room for my results.
And once again, the doctor saw what looked to be a cyst, but wanted to be sure. It was in a spot that was very hard to see…behind the nipple.
I would need an ultrasound to make sure.
Unfortunately, the clinic I picked did not have an ultrasound machine. So, the nurse scheduled me for their other clinic a couple of days later. (Note to self – next time go to the clinic your primary care doctor recommends, even if it is 15 minutes further away. It will save an extra trip. He actually does know what he’s talking about.)
My next appointment
I’ve had a ton of ultrasounds (I had 2 a week towards the end of my twin pregnancy) so I knew what it would feel like.
Again, there is nothing special you need to do before an ultrasound on your breast.
Waiting room, dressing room, robe, locker.
Warm gel is used, and they move an ultrasound wand over the tissue. It actually took quite a while because she wanted to make sure she saw everything. It did not hurt at all, but again, got uncomfortable after about 30 minutes. (I’m totally exaggerating. It was probably only 5 minutes.)
The technician had me wait in the room, and she went to show the doctor. This is where the nerves set in a little.
I’ve never been so happy to hear the words benign cysts!!!
I don’t need to have another mammogram until next year, but I do need to have the 3D images done because of the kind of tissue I have.
So, I breathed a huge sigh of relief, and called my mom and husband. They were probably even more worried than me.
I hope my experience has helped take some of the mystery out of what to expect for your first mammogram. Early detection is your best form of defense against breast cancer, so please don’t put it off. A few minutes of being uncomfortable is worth it. As you know, I’m not a doctor or medical professional, so please know this is only my experience and personal advice.
Have you had a mammogram yet? Was your experience similar to mine?