Mammogram 101

There is no history of breast cancer in my family, so I felt secure in the assumption that I still had several years before getting my first mammogram at the age of 40 (though I understand that the medical community may be in the process of changing that to 35 years). Recently however, I was experiencing what I came to call the “phantom pain” in my right breast. It was the strangest thing.

I mentally covered all the things I could attribute it to: a lump (I found nothing with a thorough self-exam), bra wire (nope, wrong spot), monthly cycle (went out the window after 3 weeks), bruising (again, over three weeks), slightly pulled muscle (back to that darn three weeks again).

After the aforementioned 3 weeks, I called my doctor’s office and spoke to her nurse. As we were chatting, she went ahead and set up an appointment for me three weeks down the road (what is it with this three weeks business?) but she mentioned that she’d be talking to the doctor so it might be earlier. Sure enough, I got a call later that day re-scheduling me for only a couple days out.

Although it was totally necessary to take this situation to my doctor at that point, seeing her didn’t clear things up any more than my own self-exam since she didn’t find anything either … but it won me a trip to the breast center for a mammogram. Woohoo (LOL)!

I had heard that they weren’t exactly painful anymore, just a little uncomfortable, so I wasn’t overly worried about that aspect of it. As the day approached however, I found that I couldn’t help but be a little nervous. Is everything really ok? Would they find something? Even if I hadn’t had pain, I think I still would have wondered … it’s all in the possibility of what may lurk in the unknown.

Because this was my first experience with this particular part of women’s health care, I thought that maybe other moms would like to know a little more about what to expect at their first mammogram! I’m sure that some of the procedure and equipment varies from clinic to clinic, but here’s a general overview of Mammogram 101:

    * Don’t stress out, it’s not worth it. Most clinics now are able to detect any potential problems right away and will take whatever steps necessary to ensure that they (and you) know if there is a problem before you leave that day. If they see a potential problem area they will call you back for another round of scans, if they still see problems they will send you immediately for an ultrasound. As soon as they see everything is clear you will be released to go home. (Note: not all clinics do it this way, but most breast centers do, just ask if you want to know.)
    * Don’t wear deoderant, perfume, powder or lotion prior to your appointment. Most clinics are prepared and will provide you with a wipe that you can use to remove everything, but they aren’t all that pleasant, so just don’t wear any.
    * Make sure you wear a two piece outfit … do not wear a dress ladies, you need to be able to take off your top and wear their … um … ‘lovely’ smock shirt (not full gown) that wraps closed in the front.
    * Getting the mammogram isn’t exactly painful, just uncomfortable. To be honest, most of the discomfort was from the strange positions I had to stand in for the placement to be just right.

The do’s and dont’s of scheduling your first Mammogram!!!

    * If you are 40 (or older) and you have not had your first mammogram yet, make the appointment today, not tomorrow! If you are between 35 and 40, ask your doctor what they recommend for you. It is always best if they have a “baseline” scan on record for you so that they have something to compare later scans with.
    * Do not schedule a mammogram during pregnancy. The scans are done using low-dose xrays, so if you’re pregnant you need to wait.
    * Do not schedule a mammogram while you’re nursing. They cannot get a clear image.
    * If you have breast implants you need to have a different type of mammogram done, so inform them when you are scheduling your appointment so you are scheduled appropriately.
    * If your breasts get tender at a certain point in your cycle, plan accordingly and try to avoid making your appointment during these days of the month.
    * Don’t schedule a mammogram on a day that is packed with appointments or where you will have too little time. There are a few reasons I say this; if you are going in for your first mammogram without problems you may get in and out of there fairly quickly (though it’s probably still going to be at least a 45 minute appointment). If, like me, you are going in with an “area of concern” you will definitely want to plan more time.

Being proactive is always the key with all women’s health issues, and this is no exception. If you are nervous or want more information, talk to your doctor, or ask the women around you who may have been through this before and maybe search online as well.


  1. says

    I actually had mine when i was pregnant with my now two year old daughter. It was an emergency! I was 26 and one morning I woke up with blood in my bra! Two days later when I had my mid-wife appointment I told her she examined me and sent me to a local woman’s clinic that is known around the country! They were great! I had the mammogram and an ultra sound done. The diagnosis. A huge surge of female hormones! I didn’t experience it with either of my sons just my daughter!

  2. says

    Great information! Thank you so much for this wonderful post. We need to educate women on this important issue. Join Healthy Moms for Breast Cancer Awareness Month this October. We are sharing articles by experts on breast cancer, early detection, and research. Visit our site and grab our button from the sidebar. Again thank you for posting this wonderful information on your blog!

  3. says

    Thanks so much for this info! My grandma is currently fighting breast cancer so I plan to start getting yearly mammograms at age 30 – three years from today exactly. :)

  4. says

    Thanks for the info! My family does have a history of breast cancer and every year at my check up I ask when I need to get my first mammogram. I’m only 23 so it’s a few years until I reach the 35 year mark. I’m so glad to hear it isn’t painful anymore. My grandma told me horror stories. She is a breast cancer survivor. :)

  5. says

    This could not have come at a better time for me! I too hav been having pain in my breast and I found a little lump on a self exam. I actually have an appt. tomorrow at the gyn and I anticipate that I will probably have to have a mammogram. Thank you so much for helping me to know what to expect!

  6. says

    What a helpful post Shera! Thank you so much for sharing it with us here at 5 Minutes for Mom.

    As soon as I am done nursing, I will schedule one. (But I plan on nursing for at least another 6 or 9 months.)

    I sure hope your tests all are clear!!!

  7. says

    Great post and great information! I hope this will help ease women’s worries of getting a mamo done. I had my first one done about 6 months ago because I was having some discomfort(lucky it turned out to be nothing – just another ‘that time of the month joyous surprise)

    Anyways, I was really nervous also. I had no idea what to expect. I was really surprised at how helpful and comfortable the nurses made me feel. And I was especially surprised that they told me the results that same day before I left the office. That way you don’t spend the weekend wondering and worrying.

  8. says

    While living in San Diego my HMO had me scheduled for a mammogram every 6 months. I have dense breast. Sometimes they would see something that resulted into a follow up ultrasound. They took fantastic care of me.
    Now that I live in Las Vegas I’ve been told I don’t need to go for a mammogram for a least another year. I’ve lived here for over a year. Health care is different throughout the US and it shouldn’t be.

  9. says

    Great post! My girlfriend once likened a mammogram to having a garage door come down on your breast! LOL
    On a serious note though, it is so, so important to have one done every year – without fail!

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