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My First Mammogram: Dos and Don'ts

Last week I went to my doctor's office for that rite of passage known as "My First Mammogram." I approached the process warily, considering the horror stories I had heard: sensitive breasts flattened between cold metal plates; brusque nurses poking and prodding naked flesh. I am happy to say that the process was simple and straightforward for me, and I really did suffer only "minor discomfort." Don't be afraid of making an appointment for your first mammogram; here are some dos and don'ts and what to expect.

Do: Get Your First Mammogram at the Right Age

Guidelines published by the American Cancer Society recommend getting your first mammogram at age 40. DON'T be a sucker like me and believe the nurse on the phone who says, "You're how old already? Thirty-five? Come on down!" Younger breasts are denser, and therefore have to be squashed more to get a good picture. Ow.

However, if you are at high risk of developing breast cancer, for example, if your mom had it, or you have the breast cancer genes, you may want to get your first mammogram early; 35 may be totally appropriate for you. Ask your doctor.

Don't: Wear Deodorant to Your Appointment

The ingredients in some deodorants (and lotion and powder, too) can interfere with the picture and cause shadows. (Although frankly, I don't know any woman who deodorizes her breasts; my deodorant stays firmly in my armpits, where it belongs!)

DO try to schedule your mammogram in the morning, so you don't have to stay stinky all day!

Do: Wear a Shirt

As opposed to a dress! Otherwise, you'll have to get totally naked, when being half-naked will suffice. The nurse will give you a hospital gown or wrap to wear open in the front as you parade through the office to the mammogram room, which hopefully will be only a short walk. (The undressing room in my doctor's office is only about three steps from the mammogram room, but I am a plus-sized person wearing an average-sized gown. My dignity was somewhat compromised by having to cross my arms over my unfettered breasts and desperately try to make ends meet, as it were!) DON'T be afraid to ask for a larger gown if you need it, or take two—one to wear open in front, and another to wear open in the back that you'll take off entirely when you reach the privacy of the room.

Do: Be Prepared for What Will Happen

I had heard the stories from my mother and older friends about their breasts being pancaked on a flat plane. What I didn't know, however, was that they also take a picture of the breast on an inclined plane, which means that you have to lean over the machine and steady yourself by ramming your (deodorant-less) armpit against the corner of the platter on which your breast is resting. Then the technician will arrange your breast and quickly press down the top plate, holding your breast in a vise grip while she takes the picture. The "breasts on a platter" position didn't hurt in the slightest; the "breast in a vise grip" position makes me ache just to think about it, and it was a week ago already.

Don't: Breathe When the Machine Is in Action

According to the technician at my appointment, if you breathe while the X-ray is being taken, they have to take another picture. I understand that this is because it is the nature of breasts to jiggle when one breathes. I didn't want to have to stand there with my breast on a platter any longer than necessary, so I took a deep breath and held it. This also helped with the pain when the machine turned at an angle. At least, it spared the tech and all the patients in the waiting room from having to hear me shout curses!

Do: Relax (as Much as You Can)

Unless you have reason to be suspicious, your first mammogram is simply a baseline measurement against which they can measure future mammograms for changes. The chances that the doctor will find some hidden horror are very slim. According to the American Cancer Society, only two to four out of 1,000 screening mammograms find cancer, and that includes every annual mammogram for women from 40 on. So although you will be uncomfortable while standing half-naked in a room with a stranger who is positioning your breasts between glass plates and then smushing them, there is no need to worry. You're young, and time is likely on your side.

Plus, if you tense up, your breasts will jiggle. And we all know what happens when your breasts start to jiggle during the picture-taking process!

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

Questions & Answers

Question: I just started my period, and my mammogram is scheduled for next week. Do I need to reschedule my mammogram?

Answer: There's no need to reschedule, as everything at the mammogram happens above the waist. That being said, if you experience breast tenderness with your period, you might want to take an OTC painkiller an hour before to take the edge off.


Brainy Bunny (author) from Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania on October 15, 2016:

Thanks, Kristen. Good luck!

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Kristen Howe from Northeast Ohio on October 15, 2016:

Thanks for this post. I have my first mammogram next Tuesday afternoon, the only available appointment to have on that day. Great lens!

Brainy Bunny (author) from Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania on May 17, 2012:

Thank you, chepkoluumugulel. A mammogram can be a little awkward, especially your first, time, but it is absolutely vital for women's health. Thanks for reading!

chepkoluumugulel from Texas on May 17, 2012:

I must say this is a very interesting and educational observation. Most of us ladies are afraid of being with a stranger in a room and more so, having your `goodies’ exposed for them to fix them right on the platter. It is kind of a weird experience, but the benefits supersede the fear of a few minutes with the stranger. I do believe that there is always a first time for everything and anything and prevention is better than cure. Thanks for sharing. Voted awesome for great information on Mammogram preparation.

Brainy Bunny (author) from Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania on February 25, 2012:

Thank you both, molometer and cebutourist. Your wives are blessed to have supportive husbands like you who take the time to understand women's health procedures!

cebutouristspot from Cebu on February 24, 2012:

Thanks for this hub I more or less have a highlight of what to expect when it my wife turn to get a mammogram.

Micheal from United Kingdom on February 24, 2012:

I have attended my wifes mammagram. That machine can only have been designed by a man. It is just so crude and needs a serious rethink!

Kris Heeter from Indiana on February 24, 2012:

LOL - no tassles, but that would lighten the mood:)

I totally agree, no one should think of skipping an appointment. And no one should skip self examines either. Both go hand in hand. I had a friend who had a clean mammogram and 4 months later found a lump that turned out to be a very aggressive tumor - it was a tumor that wasn't present or at least detectable 4 months prior.

Brainy Bunny (author) from Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania on February 24, 2012:

Thank you for sharing your experiences, Kris. I didn't have to deal with any pasties, although from what I'm imagining, they could add an element of humor to the situation, at least until you have to pull them off. I don't suppose they have tassels? ;-)

I also have read that follow-up visits are common and that most of them turn out to be false alarms. However (and this is not directed at you, Kris, but at anyone who's thinking of skipping their appointments), you should never let the likelihood of a false alarm stop you from following up! Mammograms and follow-up testing could save your life or the life of someone you love. Just do it, already!

Kris Heeter from Indiana on February 24, 2012:

I think the worse part for me the first time around was peeling of the little pasties that they put on for markers afterwards - ouch!! I don't think every place uses them but if your location ready for a little surprise pinch/pain after the fact.

The other thing to keep in mind is that it is very common to be asked to come back again for a followup to be screening again. I think the last stat I read is that between the ages of 40-50, most women will be called back in at least once - something most doctors neglect to tell you. It freaked me out the first time it happened.

It turns out that most suspicious spots are usually not cancer. My recall letter was really vague so I had to do some research to reassure myself that being called back was in fact common and that the odds were small that it was going to be cancer. Those of us with dense or fibrous breasts will be called back more often.

Brainy Bunny (author) from Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania on February 13, 2012:

I am so glad this was helpful. When the time is right, get your first mammogram. The procedure is nothing to fear!

Kymberly Fergusson from Germany on February 13, 2012:

Thanks for explaining! I am much less scared of this procedure now!

Brainy Bunny (author) from Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania on January 25, 2012:

I am so glad you didn't delay! As I said, if you're at high risk, you should definitely discuss with your doctor having a mammogram sooner rather than later. Thank you for sharing your experience.

FloraBreenRobison on January 25, 2012:

I had my first mammogram last year at the age of 35 - I found a lump which turned out to be benign. I am at a high risk, so I began checking myself when the news came out about Christina Applegate

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