What to Expect When You Have a Mammogram

Have you had a mammogram yet? The recommendations on when to start having mammograms differ from doctor to doctor; please ask your doctor when the time is right for your first mammogram. I have had many mammograms since I first found a lump in my left breast and was diagnosed with breast cancer; the following information is based on my own experiences while having a mammogram. Your experience may differ from mine.

What to expect when you have a mammogram


First things first: Once you and your doctor decide it is the right time to have a mammogram, you will need a doctor’s order. This is basically a prescription for a mammogram. You also may need a referral for a mammogram from your insurance company. If you are going to a new place for your mammogram for a second opinion or because you have moved, you will want to obtain your original mammogram films and bring them with you.

If you are worried about the mammogram being painful and are premenopausal, try to schedule it the week after your period. Your breasts are less tender during that time.

On the actual day of your mammogram, don’t wear deodorant or lotion on your breasts. Deodorant can show up on the mammogram, which is something you definitely don’t want! If you forget and wear deodorant that day, ask the technologist for a wipe when she gives you a gown.

Upon Your Arrival

Registration will vary from place to place. I used to go to an off-site mammography center, and now I go to the Breast Center that is part of my local hospital. I check in and show them my driver’s license and insurance card, along with my doctor’s order. They give me an identification bracelet to wear. I then catch up on the latest Jan. 2005 issues of People magazine. I’m definitely Team Aniston!

Your mammography technologist will take you back to a dressing room, where you will undress from the waist up and put on a hospital gown, opening in the front. The place where I go has lockers for my belongings. You will then sit in another waiting room, see the latest Victoria’s Secret catalog on the coffee table, snort in disbelief, and wonder who in their right mind put that catalog there. Too late, you realize that you should have brought something from home to read.

The Actual Mammogram

Your technologist will come to the waiting room and escort you to the mammography room. Have a seat! Your technologist may ask you questions about your family history of breast cancer. If you have any family members who have been diagnosed with breast cancer, she will also ask you what age they were when they were diagnosed.

Finally, the moment you’ve been waiting anxiously for…squishy time!

If you are having an x-ray mammogram with actual x-ray films, the technologist will stick a small, rubber ring with little lead dot in it on each of your nipples. She may also put a ring around any significant moles you have on your breasts. If it is a digital mammogram, the rings may not be necessary.

The technologist will show you exactly where to stand in front of the mammography machine. You will take one arm completely out of your gown, and the technologist will place your breast on a small platform, apologize for her cold hands, and arrange your arms and shoulders so that they don’t get in the way. She will then lower another platform and apologize for the pressure. I always say “Don’t worry!” I want to be squeezed tight so that she can get the best picture possible.

She will leave your side and go behind a screen. You need to hold your breath and stay very still for the actual mammogram, which is only a few seconds long. The technologist will take two pictures of your breast; one from the top and bottom of your breast, and a side view of your breast. If you have a worrisome spot that the doctor wants a closer look at, she will take a smaller paddle to compress the spot that needs a closer look. The process is then repeated on the other breast.

After Your Mammogram

If your mammogram is done with x-ray films, you may have to wait in the waiting room a little longer while the technologist checks the films to make sure they show a nice, clear picture of your breasts. If your mammogram is digital, she will be able to see it on the computer as the mammogram is being done.

Your technologist will not be able to discuss the results of your mammogram with you. Your mammogram will be read by a radiologist, who will then send a report to your doctor. Your doctor will call you if you need another mammogram or if there is something suspicious. If you are nervous about the results, call your doctor’s office to ask about them.

If there is nothing suspicious, my breast center sends me a letter in the mail about a week later, telling me that the results are normal.

I have been called back to have another mammogram because the results were not clear. Don’t panic if this happens to you, especially if you are premenopausal! Breast tissue can be denser in some spots than others, and the radiologist may want another picture of a section of your breast. When I was called back, the radiologist had found a particularly dense spot. Now they have a record of that dense spot. A mammogram is like a map of your breasts, which is why having a baseline mammogram is a good thing.

Mammograms can be a little uncomfortable, but they are really not that bad. They can be nerve-wracking — no one wants to find out that they may have a serious disease. However, a mammogram can be a very useful tool in finding breast cancer even before it grows into a lump you can feel…and isn’t that when you most want to find it?

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Screeching Tires and Tread Marks

I got into my minivan, started it, and looked at the digital display. It was only a few minutes to three. Not bad, I thought…my entire mammogram appointment had taken less than an hour.

I backed out of my spot and drove slowly in a spiral, down the hospital’s parking ramp. At the bottom of the ramp, there is an “S” turn to get to the small ramp that goes up to the cashier booths. My ticket was validated, so I anticipated driving up to the cashier and going on my way.

As I steered around the middle curve of the “S”, I saw a car at the top of the ramp to the left side. The driver’s door was open, and an older woman was halfway out of the car. She stepped out of her car, and it looked like she was trying to push the car up the ramp to the cashier booth. I didn’t drive any closer to her — I wasn’t sure what she was doing. If she had car trouble, she was in a perfect place to just put the car in park and go get help.

She sat back down in the driver’s seat, with her left foot sticking out of the car. Slowly, the car began to roll backwards, diagonally down the ramp. It looked like the woman was trying to stop the car with her left foot!

The car kept rolling backwards, right toward me! She’s not going to stop! I thought, and I put my van in reverse as her car picked up speed. I backed up quickly, steering backward around the “S” curve, looking wildly behind me and at the car headed straight for me. There was a CRASH as the car hit the rear end of a parked SUV. The car pushed the SUV toward the wall, and the car finally stopped its backward descent down the ramp. I heard a honk as another car came up behind me, the driver oblivious to what had just happened.

Shaking, I put my van into drive, drove up to a parking spot, and let the car behind me pass. I got out my phone, and headed toward the woman from the runaway car to see if she was okay. She was visibly shaking, but otherwise was unhurt. She asked if she could use my phone to call her husband, even though my intent had been to call the police. A man walking by said he would call public safety for us.

I gave the woman my phone. She was shaking so much she couldn’t dial the number, and I offered to dial it for her. It took three times for her to remember the correct number to dial, and she was finally able to talk to her husband. She spoke to him in her first language, and after she hung up and thanked me, she told me the brakes didn’t work on her car. I waited with her for public safety to show up, which happened in a matter of minutes. I gave the officer my name and number, and went on my way.

Although the woman’s car had seemed like it was speeding toward me, in reality it probably never reached 15 miles per hour. The damage to both cars was minimal, to my eye, at least. No one was hurt, and I’m grateful that the girls were at home with a babysitter. I drove in the direction of my house carefully, still shaken up. Since I had a babysitter, I pulled into a Starbucks and bought myself a grande Cafe Mocha–full strength, 2% milk, please!

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