What to Expect From My First Mammogram

Oh hey I got my first mammogram today!

At age 35, I was actually long overdue for my first mammogram, considering my family history of breast cancer (maternal grandmother, mother, maternal aunt…).

But today, I finally picked up my skirt, grabbed my balls, and got myself to the radiology lab.

How to Prepare for a Mammogram

If you’ve been ordered to have a mammogram by your doctor, you’ll call and make an appointment wherever your doctor refers you (or, if you have strong feelings, to the radiology center of your choice).

The radiology center will schedule your appointment, and give you one key piece of information:

Do not apply lotion, powder, or deodorant before your mammogram.

This point was driven home to me several times.

Also, it’s a good idea to wear an outfit comprised of a separate top and bottom. No dresses, jumpsuits or overalls. Wear jeans and a t-shirt (or if you must, a blouse).

I was also asked to bring the doctor’s order for the mammogram with me. I forgot, but you shouldn’t. Bring the referral/order from your doctor’s office!

When You Get There

After doing the usual rigamarole of checking in, filling out forms, and (in this time of Covid) having your temperature taken, you’ll be asked to wait.

When you’re called in, the radiology technician will ask you to undress from the waist up and put on a robe that opens in the front.

It’s always super awkward to walk around wearing a garment that’s liable to flap open and expose you to strangers, so try to keep your sense of humor. Heck, have a little laugh and flash someone in the hallway!

(I’m just kidding; don’t.)

The radiology center I went to specializes in mammograms, and was staffed exclusively by women. This made me feel a lot more comfortable. If this is a concern of yours, call ahead and ask if you’ll be seeing a male or female technician.

The Mammogram Itself

The technician called me into the room. She had already introduced herself to me, and she was a very calming, reassuring presence.

She was clearly a seasoned professional and knew that this could be a frightening and emotional time for her patients. She did a good job making me feel as comfortable as possible.

The technician put a lead apron around my waist, and when directed, I was to remove one arm from the robe and approach the machine.

The mammogram machine reminded me a bit of old dental x-ray machines. It’s a vertical machine with a kind of tray sticking out of it.

On this tray, the technician places your breast. She asks you to stand just so, so that the maximum amount of breast tissue is on the tray.

There’s a lot of pulling and prodding at this point, and your breasts will be manhandled (or, in my case, womanhandled). It’s uncomfortable, but it’s normal. The technician then smooshes the breast down with another tray lowered from above the first.

It is not comfortable. Your boob is squooshed like a pancake between these two plastic trays, and you have to stand, holding your breath, while the technician takes the image.

Then, she has to take the vertical image. That’s the worst. The whole tray part of the machine rotates to about a 45 degree angle and your breast is then compressed somewhat vertically.

This one was especially uncomfortable for me, and the pressure caused such pain that I gasped and had trouble holding my breath for the duration of the imaging.

Luckily, the whole process is quick, and as I said, the technicians are professionals who (hopefully) are good at setting people at ease.

The Ultrasound

Then, the doctor came by and said that as this was my first mammogram and because I have dense breast tissue, she wanted to be extra sure all was well and do an ultrasound.

The ultrasound was very much like the ones I got while I was pregnant, just higher up on my torso!

(And the ultrasound gel they squeeze on was kept in a warmer–a very nice touch!)

The doctor followed the same pattern as I do when I do my home breast exam: she moved from out to in on the breast, going around in a circle to check the whole surface.

The Results of the Mammogram

You’ll get your results before you leave the radiology center.

If you’ve been told you have cystic tissue or dense tissue, you may want to make sure you’ve gotten a 3D mammogram. These will ensure lesions or tumors aren’t lost in the dense tissue.

In my case, the technician came back and said she had to get one more image from my left side, but after that the doctor took a look and was satisfied that all was well.

I was sent home relieved and happy, with an order to come back in one year’s time.

What To Do At Home

In the meantime, I need to be a lot better about doing my home breast exams after each period.

How can I remind myself to do them?

Any ideas?