If you’re anything like me, the idea of having your first mammogram is pretty daunting. I was apprehensive before I went but I know that it’s a necessary evil. Breast cancer, if caught early, is often treatable. But I’d also heard that the scans could be painful rather than just uncomfortable. I was also torn – to read into it and see what the consensus was about how much it hurts, or turn up on the day blissfully ignorant?
In the end I opted for some light research into how best to handle it. (Background: Here in Sweden, women are offered a free mammogram every couple of years after the age of 40.)
I thought I’d share my experience with you and offer a few tips that I learned from my first mammogram.
Preparing for your first mammogram
♣ Timing: If you need to, don’t book your appointment during the week before your period is due, when your breasts are more tender. If necessary, rebook.
♣ Pain relief: I took a couple of painkillers about 45 minutes before I was due to have my mammogram. Afterwards, however, I read that using topical pain relief cream/gel beforehand might work better than tablets.
♣ Avoid perfume and scented body lotions: The leaflet I was sent beforehand told me not to wear perfume or scented body lotion to my mammogram. This seems to be because staff and others at the hospital might be sensitive to scents.
♣ Avoid deodorant/talc: I also read that it is best not to wear deodorant or talc. They can leave white flecks on your skin that can look like lumps on the scan. And the last thing that I wanted was to have to go back for extra scans. I popped into the bathroom while I arrived at the hospital to check my armpits as I was paranoid (it was a warm summer’s day – yuck. And I went home afterwards and showered again before heading into the office.
♣ Relax!: I know it’s difficult, but really this does help. Take a couple of deep breaths when your name is called. If you’re really nervous, tell the nurse/technician and they will be able to assist you. They are used to it. I kept on telling myself that this is only going to be every couple of years and only for a very short time and it was worth the little bit of pain.
I think I was probably only in the room for about 15 minutes in total (most of this answering health questions). It really is such a small amount of time. I was lucky that the nurse who called me in was very kind and patient and could see I was nervous. She explained beforehand that there would be four different scans taken, two on each breast. She quickly got me into the correct position to scan from above and set the glass plates to clamp down on my breast. At first it was an uncomfortable sensation but as they pressed down harder, it did begin to hurt. She quickly went behind the screen to the computer and took the scan and then released the glass plates immediately after. Then she put me into the same position for the other breast and repeated the procedure.
The second two scans are from the side – so the same procedure but just standing into a new position, with the glass plates squeezing from the side.
All in all, the glass plates were only clamped down for around 15 seconds for each scan. So it was only around a minute in total. And then it was all over.
After the mammogram
In the days following the mammogram, I wore a bra without underwire, as my breasts felt quite sore. On the first night, I was tempted to wear a soft bra as the soreness was distracting me from sleep. But this wore off reasonably soon.
The only thing then was to wait for the results. Here in Stockholm that typically take two weeks. Here, if you are called back for further scans, they book these within a week of contacting you. There is an increased chance of being called back after your first mammogram because they have no previous scans to compare against.
Mine arrived within 13 days – all clear!
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I am so glad that I have the opportunity to have these free mammograms every two years. I would highly recommend anyone who has been offered one just to go. Breast cancer has proven quite treatable when caught in the early stages, so I believe it really is worth the few minutes of pain of the scans.