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You’ve Hit the Big 4-0? Bonus! Time for Your First Mammogram!


By Genesis Imaging Centers

When 41-year-old Juanita was advised by her physician that it was time for her to begin annual screening, she was nervous. “Any test that comes along with age is stressful,” she shared. Since she didn’t know much about mammography, other (younger) women were quick to point out how painful the exam would be for her.

“Yes, I heard all the stories — and I can tell you they are lies, all lies!” Juanita let out a belly laugh. “The tech who did my mammogram said that the compression would be uncomfortable, but not painful, so I just relaxed. She talked me through everything that was going on, which really helped. The compression was only uncomfortable. Everything went really smoothly and quick.” “I expected to be there for two or three hours, but I was in and out of there in no time.”

Much like men fear their first prostate exam, a lot of women worry needlessly about their first mammogram. What really makes the difference is knowing what to expect and remembering that it will be over in ten minutes. As the day of your first mammogram approaches, here is some insider information to ensure you have your best mammogram:

First, look at your calendar
For a more comfortable experience, schedule your mammogram the week after your period when your breasts are not swollen. Avoid getting a mammogram the week before and during your period.

Next, schedule your screening mammogram
At Genesis Imaging Centers and hospital locations, self-referral is accepted. That means no doctor’s order is required to have a mammogram. When you call, radiology schedulers will assist you in setting up the date, time, and location that best suits your timetable. If you have breast implants, remember to tell the scheduler since a little more time will be needed. (Iowa, 563-421-9729) (Illinois, 563-281-5000).

The day of your appointment
Before you leave home, here are a few things you can do to make yourself more comfortable and assure that the radiologist acquires the clearest diagnostic images:

  • Do not wear deodorant, perfume, or powder the day of your mammogram. They leave a residue that appears as white spots.
  • Cancer also appears as white spots.
  • Bring deodorant to apply after your exam.
  • Since you’ll be wearing a gown above the waist, plan to wear a skirt or pants. Avoid wearing dresses to remain clothed from the waist down.
  • If you have long hair, bring a hair tie.
  • Let the technologist know that you might be sensitive. While compressing your breast, she will continually ask how you’re feeling to make sure your mammogram is a positive experience.Take two aspirin or other over-the-counter pain reliever an hour before your appointment if you are concerned about pain.

When you arrive, check in at the front desk. Remember to bring a current copy of your insurance card and photo ID. The receptionist will give you a brochure to read about 3D Mammography (Tomosynthesis). Once you’re in the mammography suite, the technologist will ask you if you wish to have a 3D mammogram or a conventional 2D mammogram.

About 3D Mammography (Tomosynthesis)
3D mammography is a revolutionary new screening and diagnostic tool designed for early breast cancer detection. 3D mammography is done in conjunction with a traditional 2D digital mammogram. This technology is the biggest breakthrough in breast cancer detection in 30 years. Several large studies have shown that 3D mammography detects up to 41% more invasive breast cancers. It also reduces a woman’s chance that she’ll be called back for additional imaging or a biopsy. 3D mammography is approved for all women and all breast types. It is particularly effective for women with dense breast tissue or those at high risk for developing breast cancer. Medicare covers the full cost of a 3D mammogram, but most commercial insurers do not. Call your insurer to verify if the exam will be covered. If not, the cost of adding 3D imaging to a mammogram is just $60. This covers both the facility’s and the radiologist’s fees. Of course, you may always choose to have a traditional 2D mammogram.

Inside the Mammography suite
Only you and the technologist will be in the room. Prior to the exam she will ask you if you have a family history of breast cancer and if you have any symptoms or concerns that are bothering you. Afterward, the exam begins.

Your technologist understands that you’re feeling embarrassed and awkward. To help overcome your nervousness, she will tell you everything that is about to happen and why. For ease, you’ll be wearing a gown that ties in front. For the exam, you will stand in front of the machine while the technologist positions you and your breasts onto a precise location on a glass plate. Another plate will come down from overhead to compress the breast while x-rays are taken. The compression for each breast only lasts a few seconds — the entire exam takes approximately 10 to 15 minutes. Compression is needed to ensure the overlapping layers of tissue remain stable and a high-quality image is acquired for the radiologist to interpret. Two different x-rays of each breast are taken during compression. If you have implants, you’ll need two additional x-rays per breast, for a total of eight. As soon as an x-ray is completed, the compression is released. Most women find mammograms uncomfortable. This is largely due to the sensation of tissue on the chest wall being pulled while the breast is simultaneously compressed. The degree of pain is subjective; some women are simply more sensitive. A mammogram is an interactive process. Your experience depends on the skill level and expertise of the technologist as well as how patient and relaxed you’re feeling.

A board-certified radiologist will interpret (“read”) your mammogram, dictate a report, and send a copy to your physician. Depending upon the findings, the radiologist or your physician will contact you with a result.
If fear is preventing you from having a mammogram, remember that mammography is your friend, not your enemy. Actress Charlotte Ross summed it up eloquently when she said, “Mammograms are really sort of a gift. You can either catch something early or count your lucky stars because nothing was discovered. Either way, you’re ahead of the game.”

If you have questions about mammography, contact KD Flick, Genesis Imaging Centers, 563-421-5632. To schedule a mammogram in Iowa, call 563-421-XRAY (9729). In Illinois, call 309-281-5000.

Photo credit: Genesis Imaging Centers and Catherine Lane/iStock