Since October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month and this might influence you to woman up and get your first mammogram I wanted to let the skittish among you know how little there is to be afraid of in regard to the actual procedure. I am a major medi-phobic and if I can do it you can, too.
I had my first mammo last year, a little late, according to the guidelines of the American Cancer Society and American College of Radiology which advise that women get screening mammograms annually starting at age 40 and potentially earlier if there is a history of breast cancer in the family. (A recent controversy occurred when the US Preventative Services Task Force recommended radically more casual guidelines – mammos every two years from the age of 50-74). Being uninsured I was worried about the cost but that was partly a dodge: I was far more worried about what sounded like a sadistic process where your boobs are squeezed between two flat panes connected to some giant machine probably designed by Stephen King.
I wanted peace of mind, though, and so I soldiered on, went to the clinic… and had a full-blown take-no-prisoners anxiety attack in the waiting room: gulping air, shaking, uncontrollable tears, the whole floor show (told you: phobic). When I stepped out into the hall to recover myself a compassionate staff member offered to walk me through the procedure; if you’re panicky about this exam I strongly advise you ask if someone can do this for you. Getting to ask the tech “Can you turn that thing off if I panic?” and having her swear that she would not let it snag me like a perverted bear trap was a huge relief.
For the test itself you can’t be wearing deodorant since it can interfere with the X-rays but otherwise there is no preparation. You undress from the waist up, wear a robe and stand up against the machine. Yes, your boobs get squished pretty flat between two flat surfaces in order to get as clear a picture of the breast tissue as possible. It’s not comfy but it’s not especially painful either and each picture only takes a couple of seconds. These videos from Nucleus Medical Art and The Mayo Clinic offer very good ideas of what to expect. The radiologist will interpret the results; some places get them back to you more quickly than others. Mine came in the mail about a week later and were thankfully clear.
As for costs, I didn’t think a doctor would take out a splinter for as little as $100, but that’s what I paid; CostHelper.com says $102 is average and also during October some places offer discounts, so click the link for more information and definitely do some comparison shopping.
So, if a scaredy cat like me can do it I know you can. Your breasts have been good to you – let National Breast Cancer Awareness month inspire you to take care of them.