Illustration for article titled What Can You Expect During Your First Mammogram? And Other Questions, Answered

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It’s nonetheless Breast Cancer Awareness Month for an additional day, however mammograms are vital year-round. And whereas some could have had their fair proportion of appointments over time, others are simply coming into—or approaching—that time of their lives. However even with earlier expertise, mammograms could be sources of stress and anxiousness.

To make issues a bit simpler—and ideally, extra bearable—for everybody concerned, we’ve put collectively this information to assist stroll you thru the method, with enter from specialists in addition to others who’ve been on the other facet of the machine. Given how a lot data is on the market on mammography and breast most cancers, we will’t tackle every part right here, however we hope that this data will no less than provide help to put together to your subsequent (or first) appointment.

What’s a mammogram?

A mammogram is an X-ray picture of the breast used to detect early indicators of breast most cancers—generally even earlier than you’d have the ability to really feel any lumps throughout self-exams. At present there are the normal 2-D mammograms, in addition to a more recent sort referred to as digital breast tomosynthesis (or 3-D mammogram), which aren’t out there in any respect breast imaging facilities but however have gotten more and more widespread.

For those who’re uncertain at what age or frequency try to be getting mammograms, examine the guidelines established by the American Cancer Society. If in case you have a household historical past of breast most cancers, you might begin getting yours in your 30s as an alternative of your 40s. Your first mammogram can be known as your “baseline mammogram” as a result of it serves as a degree of comparability for all of your future mammograms.

And despite the fact that mammograms do use a small quantity of radiation, that doesn’t mean they’re unsafe. For instance, the radiation dose from a mammogram is the same as round two months of the standard background radiation for the common particular person. “One widespread fantasy is that mammograms trigger most cancers,” Dr. Priyanka Vaidya, a common practitioner at Pall Mall Medical tells Lifehacker. “That is [inaccurate], as mammograms make the most of very small doses of radiation—it’s like getting an X-ray, subsequently which means it doesn’t trigger most cancers in any method.”

Are mammograms painful?

All of it relies upon. A 2020 study published in the journal Radiography discovered that in a mammogram, some individuals expertise extra discomfort than others. However there wasn’t a correlation between breast dimension, breast density, or complete compression power and ache.

“The mammogram itself isn’t a painful process,” Vaidya explains. “The act of compression, which is a vital a part of the mammogram to assist flatten the breast so the X-ray can penetrate, can at instances be uncomfortable.
Nonetheless, the very consciousness of why the compression is required and the way this helps the physician’s get higher imaging to rule out any early scan of most cancers could be comforting and assist ease any worries.”

In conditions the place her sufferers discover the compression ache insufferable, she advises them to take some anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen half-hour earlier than the process. “Some ladies additionally discover that partaking in some deep respiratory workout routines previous to the process also can assist mitigate the ache,” she provides.

How can I put together for my mammogram?

Other than popping a ache reliever earlier than your appointment, right here are some things you’ll be able to (or, in some instances, must) do:

Skip the deodorant, lotions and comparable merchandise

If you made or confirmed your appointment, the workplace probably (or no less than ought to have) instructed you to not put on deodorant, lotions, oils, powders or perfumes if you are available in for a scan, as these merchandise can present up as white spots on the X-ray.

Go for pants or a skirt

For those who’re somebody who recurrently wears attire, you would possibly need to plan one other outfit for the day of your appointment. As a result of you must be topless, no less than when you put on a skirt, slacks or different bottoms, you’ll have one thing in your lower-half.

E-book your appointment for after your interval

“The section of your menstrual cycle doesn’t have an effect on the accuracy of your mammograms,” Dr. Habib Rahbar, scientific director of breast imaging at Seattle Most cancers Care Alliance tells Lifehacker. So don’t fear about that. However when you are likely to get sore or tender breasts earlier than and/or throughout your interval, Vaidya recommends reserving an appointment round seven to 10 days after the beginning of menstruation.

Carry documentation when you’re new

If that is your first go to to an imaging middle, bring a list of the locations and dates of mammograms, biopsies or different breast remedies you’ve had earlier than, so all that data is useful when you want it.

What occurs throughout a mammogram?

Initially, the boob-squishing portion of your appointment normally solely takes around 10 minutes, and the precise breast compression only lasts a few seconds every time. After all, there are a bunch of different elements of your appointment, however it might assist to know that the imaging is fairly fast.

The whole lot begins with taking your garments and undergarments off from the waist up and donning a breezy hospital robe. (For those who occur to have massive breasts and normally have bother closing a standard hospital robe, know that many imaging facilities provide the robes in quite a lot of sizes.) We’ll let the CDC take it from here:

You’ll stand in entrance of a particular X-ray machine. A technologist will place your breast on a plastic plate. One other plate will firmly press your breast from above. The plates will flatten the breast, holding it nonetheless whereas the X-ray is being taken. You’ll really feel some stress. The steps are repeated to make a facet view of the breast. The opposite breast can be X-rayed in the identical method. You’ll then wait whereas the technologist checks the 4 X-rays to verify the photographs don’t should be re-done.

The technologist can’t inform you the outcomes of your mammogram, however they do take the photographs to the physician (a radiologist) to have a look and see if there’s something that wants a better look. In some instances you’ll be requested to remain for an ultrasound, however when you don’t want one, that’s it—you go on along with your life, and normally inside a couple of week to 10 days, the radiologist will ship your official outcomes to you and your common practitioner.

What occurs if I want an ultrasound?

Typically, the radiologist will check out your mammogram and need to get some extra data. If this occurs, don’t panic. There are a number of the explanation why getting the a extra detailed take a look at your breasts and their blood flow could be vital. These include:

  • Having dense breast tissue, which may make it onerous to get a transparent image solely through the X-ray.
  • For another purpose, the X-rays weren’t clear or left elements of the breast out.
  • There’s one a part of your breast the place the tissue appears totally different.
  • The radiologist noticed calcifications or a mass (which might be a cyst).

Usually, you get the ultrasound outcomes that day and both get the all-clear, are requested to come back again in six months for a follow-up, or are instructed you could schedule a biopsy for additional testing (and it’s vital to know {that a} biopsy order doesn’t routinely equal most cancers).

If I do know I’ve dense breasts, do I nonetheless must do the X-ray half?

If, after your first mammogram, you discover out that you’ve got dense breast tissue and wish an ultrasound, you might marvel if this implies you’re completed with the squishing X-ray without end. Sorry, nope.

“A standard fantasy is that mammograms aren’t useful in ladies with dense breasts,” Rahbar explains. “Whereas mammograms can discover much less cancers in ladies who’ve dense breasts, they’re nonetheless invaluable and do catch many cancers. You need to proceed to get mammograms, particularly these with ‘3D’ or ‘tomosynthesis’ know-how when out there, no matter your breast density.

Ought to I get my routine mammogram in the course of the COVID-19 pandemic?

Now that we’ve got a greater understanding of how the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 spreads, Rahbar says that it’s typically very protected to get your mammogram, “so long as you’re prepared to comply with the precautions at your middle, which can embody symptom screening on the day of your appointment or sporting a masks all through your appointment. Screening mammography can save lives, it’s best to proceed to get your mammogram.”

What if I can’t afford a mammogram?

Medicare, Medicaid, and most personal insurance coverage corporations cowl the price of mammograms. Below the Affordable Care Act, all new medical health insurance plans should cowl screening mammograms each one to 2 years for ladies ages 40 and older, with no out-of-pocket prices

For those who’re uninsured or underinsured and don’t suppose you’ll have the ability to swing the prices of your screening, you could possibly get one without spending a dime or at a low price by means of the CDC’s Nationwide Breast and Cervical Most cancers Early Detection Program, which additionally gives cervical most cancers screenings. It’s out there in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, six U.S. territories, and to 13 Native American/Alaska Native tribal organizations. You could find out when you’re eligible on the program’s website.

For those who dwell in New York state, the NYS Cancer Services Program presents free breast most cancers screening and diagnostic providers for uninsured, eligible residents. There are different statewide and native packages that additionally provide free or low-cost mammograms. The next organizations might help you find one in your space (although don’t essentially provide screenings themselves):

What does a mammogram really feel like?

For some individuals, mammograms aren’t any large deal. However for others, they’re a significant supply of tension and bodily ache (or no less than discomfort). There are lots of various factors at play right here, together with your private ache tolerance and the kind of tools that’s used, so simply since you had a pal who had a foul expertise, that doesn’t imply it’ll be the identical for you. Right here’s some extra perception from individuals who’ve been by means of it.

What it feels wish to be a ‘topless contortionist’

“After your first mammogram it is possible for you to to reply your lifelong query of what it will really feel wish to be a topless contortionist. However working a mammogram into your yearly rotation of wellness visits doesn’t must be as daunting as you envision it. Keep in mind your first go to to the gynecologist? Your first journey to the dentist? For those who put it in your thoughts that your yearly boob smoosh is as routine as your yearly pap smear, when that appointment reminder goes off, you and your boobs can be prepared.” — Meredith Goldberg, writer of From Cocktails to Chemotherapy: A Guide to Navigating Cancer in Your 30s.

Size matters

“My personal experience was definitely full of the unknown combined with anxiety, because I was diagnosed with breast cancer a few days after my latest mammogram in July 2020. I’m honestly still in denial and praying for the day I become cancer-free. I believe everyone’s experience can be different when they get their mammogram because our bodies are different. I also feel the size of your breasts play a role in how the process feels—especially if you have implants like I do!” — Sonya Dalton-McRoberts, celebrity trainer, former professional basketball player, and founder of Complete You By Sonya D.

Uncomfortable however routine

“My mammograms had been routine. Considerably uncomfortable, however they had been routine. Emotions of fear and anxiousness had been all the time the backdrop, partially as a result of I knew the stat that 1 in eight ladies get breast most cancers, and in addition as a result of I knew I had fibrous breasts, which imply sonograms and additional exploration. To not put worry into anybody, however whereas mammograms could also be uncomfortable, getting chemo infusions each different week is far more uncomfortable. By getting a mammogram, you’re being proactive and caring for your self. Self care must be celebrated!” — Tina Zaremba, voice actor and host of the Chemo Stories podcast.

Ideas for enhancing your mammogram expertise

Although you’ll in all probability by no means get to the purpose of having fun with mammograms, there are just a few methods to make them extra bearable. Listed below are some ideas from specialists who do mammograms for a residing, in addition to from others with private expertise.

Keep away from caffeine

As a lot as you like/want your morning cup(s) of espresso, you might need to skip caffeinated drinks the day of your mammogram. “This commerce off may not be price it for a lot of ladies, however caffeine consumption can improve sensitivity,” Jennifer Cantu RT(R)(M)(CT), a registered technologist and scientific specialist at Volpara Health tells Lifehacker.

Keep off the web

A fast scroll on Instagram whilst you’re ready to your appointment can shortly result in a seek for “mammograms and most cancers,” and earlier than you understand it, you’re most cancers doomscrolling, Goldberg says. “Carry a e book, learn {a magazine}, or watch no matter TV they’ve on within the ready room,” she advises. “Typically you get fortunate they usually have The Golden Women on loop!”

Go together with a pal

For those who don’t need to go alone, enlist a pal to be your mammo-associate. “Some mates make it a celebration, scheduling back-to-back mammograms annually, adopted by a celebratory lunch,” Cantu says.

Give your self sufficient time

Although the process itself could also be fast, the entire course of can take some time. Instead of assuming you’ll have the ability to squeeze a mammogram in throughout your lunch break, Goldberg suggests giving your self loads of time for the appointment—dashing will simply make you extra anxious.

Don’t hold placing it off

For those who’re nervous about getting your mammogram, make the appointment when you’re due for one—even simply realizing that half is completed would possibly assist with your anxiousness. “Simply do not forget that by getting a mammogram, you take an vital proactive step to residing longer and more healthy,” Rahbar says.

Focus and breathe

Your thoughts could also be racing, however attempt to keep within the second. “You’re the place your consideration is,” Zaremba says. “Give attention to what you’re grateful for and breathe. These mammograms save lives.”

Be vocal

It’s fully applicable—and inspired—to ask as many query as you could throughout your appointment. “Even when you suppose it’s essentially the most trivial of questions, the nurses and radiologists are there to assist information you,” Goldberg says. “So if you wish to know the distinction between a 3D mammogram and a standard mammogram, ask somebody—don’t simply Google it if you get house.”