What to expect when experience a mammogram for the first time.
I’m 36 years old and had the first-time experience of going to get a mammogram. There are certain areas of adulthood that I’ve always dreaded and getting a mammogram is one of those things. I remember hearing about them as a girl and praying that technology would advance a TON by the time I was old enough to need them.
I for sure went into the experience very nervous and with the expectation to be miserable but, in fact, it truly is WAY less of a big deal than I’d always anticipated it being and I’m so thankful I got it done so now it’s no longer a fear I have! Now all those internet jokes about them won’t freak me out since I’ve “been there done that!”
I wanted to share my experience in order to help others who may dread the breast exam to feel more comfortable going into the experience.
I am NOT a doctor. NOT a medical professional. I’m just a regular mom. A regular 36 year old woman sharing my own experiences from a personal perspective. If you’re seeking any medical advice, discuss with YOUR doctor.
When Should I Get My First Mammogram?
The American Cancer Society currently recommends that between ages 40 – 44 women have the option to begin mammogram exams, by age 45 women should have their first mammogram and should continue to schedule yearly exams until age 55 and at that age women may choose to switch to semi-annual mammograms if desired.
The American College of Radiology says: “By not getting annual mammograms starting at age 40, you increase your chances of dying from breast cancer and the likelihood that you will experience more extensive treatment for any cancers found.”
If you have a history of breast cancer in your family then it may be best to begin yearly mammogram screenings at a younger age although, unfortunately, now that the ACS has changed their recommendations to age 40+ it may not be covered under insurance.
It is important to check with your doctor and see what their personal recommendation is for you. A variety of elements can come into play when deciding when you should start deciding to begin mammography exams.
I personally have had a couple of years now of issues related to my monthly menstrual period cycle and in my efforts to figure out the cause of those problems I found a doctor who did a TON of bloodwork and said I have high estrogen which can be a potential concern and makes me at a slightly higher breast cancer risk status in the future. I was able to use that documentation to make my claim for an early diagnostic mammogram at age 36 although I have no prior family history of breast cancer.
How Do I Prepare for My First Mammogram?
There is not much preparation prior to having your first mammography appointment. Be sure to go over any information that your doctor may provide and be sure to have your health insurance card, photo id, and any payment that may be necessary at the time of your imaging center visit.
Be sure to make a note of any questions and concerns you may have. I like to write up a list of questions and thoughts or family history that may be important in my phone so it’s easy to access and I can also easily add in anything the health care provider may share.
It is best to get a good night’s sleep as well as eat and drink the day of your scheduled appointment to help calm any nerves you may be experiencing. Depending on how you respond to caffeine you may or may not want to avoid caffeine products. Listen to music you enjoy on the way to your appointment! Have a fun treat planned for yourself afterward as a reward! Hey moms need a “good job” sucker once in a while too, right? The perk of adulthood is you CAN treat yourself!
What to Wear to a Mammogram:
It is typically recommended to wear a two-piece outfit to the appointment as you are able to leave your pants on during breast cancer screening. Dress for comfort!
On the day of the exam, I wore leggings and comfortable shoes as well as a sweatshirt. The best outfit to wear is the one that YOU feel the most comfortable wearing! Doctors’ offices and medical procedure locations tend to be colder temperatures and I wanted to be comfortable both in the waiting room as well as throughout the imaging process.
I was also told all jewelry was fine so I wore earrings, a necklace, my rings as well as bracelets to and during the scheduled appointment.
The only item to keep in mind when getting dressed for the day of your mammogram is to NOT wear deodorant (or talcum powder but that’s not something I wear or have heard of people wearing?)! Deodorant often includes the ingredient aluminum which can appear as white spots on the mammogram screening and those white spots can easily be confused with calcifications in the breast tissue.
Calcifications in the breast can be an early sign of breast cancer so these white spots could lead to unwarranted concerns or even to an unnecessary diagnostic mammogram. Lotions, hair products, makeup products, and all of your other daily routine beauty and hygiene items are totally fine to use and wear on the day of your mammogram. Just refrain from wearing deodorant and you’re good!
In my dressing room during my visit to the doctor for my first mammogram they had a little table set up with baby wipes in case I needed to remove deodorant prior to my screening and they also provided deodorant to use to apply and freshen up following the screening.
I’m very much a rule-follower and better-safe-than-sorry person so I would much rather avoid wearing deodorant than removing it with a wipe and risk any sort of potential breast cancer diagnosis false alarm!
What To Expect During First Mammogram:
The best time, in my opinion, for any sort of appointment that I may be nervous about is first thing in the morning. But I actually chose to have my mammogram done at a healthcare provider about two hours away from home.
My decision in the new facility where I had my mammogram appointment scan was due to my husband’s aunt and her current battle with breast cancer. She has received fabulous treatment in Gainesville, Florida so it was worth the drive me to have my scans taken there. They have newer technology and updated equipment compared to our local area healthcare providers so I felt it was a worthwhile endeavor to ensure we’d have good pictures on file moving forward!
I arrived at my scheduled mammography exam appointment about fifteen minutes early and had some simple paperwork to fill out that did go into detail regarding any personal history of breast cancer, whether or not you have breast implants, past mammogram experiences, any sign of potential breast problem, any risk of breast cancer, information about your primary care provider, why you are having a screening mammogram, and any other breast symptoms or personal concerns or need to know information.
Once I got all checked in I then was called back and given a locker and key for my personal belongings as well as a private room dressing room for changing out of my shirt and bra and into a hospital gown top that wrapped around and tied. I felt like I was officially entering the club of women with that thing on 😉
Being that my appointment took place during the pandemic I did also have to wear a mask at the hospital as well as during my scan. This did add a bit to the discomfort for me as deep breaths are tough with a mask on!
Once I was changed I put my items into my locker and then the same mammography technologist walked me into the exam room.
It was NOT as intimidating as I’d imagined it to be!
I remained standing for the entire mammogram procedure and the technician was extremely kind and went above and beyond in explaining things and making sure I felt comfortable through the entire process. She works with mammography patients every day and it was clear she was a seasoned pro 😉
I removed the tiny paper thin top I had on and she did touch my breasts to manipulate them for best fitting in the machine. This did not bother me and she was very professional and quick each time she needed to touch me but I think it’s something to be aware of if it is a moment that may make you feel uncomfortable.
I gave birth to my three biological babies without any sort of pain medication so I have a lot of practice with relaxation style of breathing so I did channel my inner fierce labor and delivery zone self in preparation for the mammogram scan to be painful and it honestly wasn’t!
I was anticipating my breasts being smashed like pancakes and that it would hurt super bad like you’d imagine your breasts being smashed that flat would hurt. But truly it wasn’t painful! A bit uncomfortable especially with the different angles you have to stand in to get the right imaging of the breast ultrasound from each side and angle of the breast.
The pressure just felt like sleeping as I am a stomach sleeper. Truly it was no more pressure than laying on your stomach and having your boobs pushed against the bed.
The first imaging was taken standing forward. One breast at a time. And then she helped position me from a side position and that was a bit more uncomfortable solely due to how I had to stand to make sure the breast imaging would be precise, accurate diagnosis and give a clear picture. Different positions are necessary to ensure the accuracy of the breast screening and prevent any possible unnecessary additional imaging or additional testing.
Many women experience the breasts releasing breastmilk or other liquid or drainage during the mammogram process (usually clear, milky, yellow or green) so do NOT be alarmed if this happens! Again, they see it ALL. I fully expected to have breast milk squirt out and was shocked it didn’t!
The entire process took under 10 minutes and the technician never left the room the whole time. Once finished I put the gown back on and waited again in the little waiting area (which was separate from the regular waiting room).
Is it Common to be Called Back After Your First Mammogram?
I was expecting to be taken back to my changing room and then out to the lobby to leave and thought I would receive a follow-up phone call about my results but an awesome perk of this particular mammogram screening location and that I was having a diagnostic mammogram is that I was given my mammogram results RIGHT away.
If you’re receiving a mammogram screening that is not for diagnostic reasons it is more common to leave the appointment and have a follow up phone call to go over the scans.
While I waited in the small waiting area the radiologist reviewed my digital images and looked for any suspicious findings from my mammography exam.
The same technician came back out to me to go over the results of my mammogram scan and she said it’s very rare to be able to tell a patient this news but that I literally had NOTHING in my scan. No concerns whatsoever.
I did tell her I have some breast tenderness and she said that tenderness is THE most common reason women have concern regarding breast health and but most often it’s just a natural part of getting older and just what happens during this phase of life with breasts. She said typically breast cancer is NOT painful and that pain isn’t usually a sign of cancer in the breast.
She said to continue to do self-breast exams at home and that I would not need another mammogram imaging scan until age 40 unless I encounter any abnormality on my breast self-examination or any other concerns.
I also received an official letter in the mail from the diagnostic imaging center going over my mammogram results. It did say to keep in mind that some cancers, about 10%, cannot be found by mammography alone. Having a combination of monthly breast self-exams as well as yearly breast exams by a healthcare provider is required for early detection of breast cancer and for overall breast health.
I did not know until this visit that I have dense breast tissue. Having breast tissue that is dense is NOT a concern and is very common (found in around 50% of women actually!). However, having dense breast tissue can make it more difficult to detect some abnormalities in the breast and can be associated with a higher risk of breast cancer.
Having my mammography scan done gave me SUCH peace of mind. I am thankful my results were negative (which means they were positive ha!) and that I will also now have these scans on my file as a great baseline as prior mammograms can be used as a comparison for future scans.
When Should You Get Your Second Mammogram?
My healthcare provider did not recommend any need for a follow-up screening and said I should schedule my next mammogram exam at age 40. However, the American Cancer Society HAS updated since then that annual mammograms aren’t recommended until age 45.
Honestly? I think that is concerning to have women wait so long to begin getting a simple scan that literally saves lives. Even though my insurance will probably not cover the exam at age 40 I still plan to have it done at that time.
There are countless benefits of early detection like catching cancer in an early stage which provides more options and a likelier chance of full healing. Even though I’m not high risk overall I’m all about doing all I can to prevent future issues down the road.
Regular mammograms are recommended yearly between the ages of 45-55 so I have a good 20 more years of ’em to come. 😉
I’m thankful it was such a smooth and easy process and it is just such a huge peace of mind to have those scans to compare to in the future!
If you have any family history of breast cancer, any concerns from a self-exam, any nagging feeling, or if you’re over the age of forty I highly encourage you to consider scheduling a mammogram visit. If you have any questions about breast cancer or research surrounding early cancer detection I encourage you to schedule a visit with your primary doctor or healthcare provider!
I’ve included a video version of this post, with me talking through my experience immediately after leaving my appointment: