What is a mammogram really like?

As if turning 40 isn’t enough of an annoyance by itself, it comes along with the pressure that I’m supposed to be starting to participate in that female rite of passage – mammograms.

If breast cancer doesn’t run in your family, it might be tempting to skip the mammogram, or at least put it off a couple years. That was the case for me, and I think it was mainly because I didn’t know what to expect. Well, I did it, and the point of this post isn’t to tell you why you should get a mammogram, but what you can expect when you go, just in case, like me, the uncertainty over the unknown is helping you put off this screening.

On the day of my appointment, I drove to Prisma Health Outpatient Radiology near Greenville Memorial Hospital. It wasn’t long after I arrived and checked in that my name was called. I went to a small room where a mammography tech confirmed some of my medical information, then went over what would happen during the procedure. She was warm and friendly, and was thorough in her explanations – but in a way that I could clearly understand. When she was finished, she gave me the opportunity to ask any questions I had, which I did.

After this, she showed me to a dressing room where – this was the most pleasant surprise about getting my mammogram – a warmed robe was waiting. It made the experience so much nicer than simply slipping into a traditional doctor’s office gown.

Let me offer a word of warning born of my own experience, though: If you put on deodorant on the day of your mammogram, right after you put that warm robe on, you’ll have to take a cold wet wipe and wipe the deodorant off your underarms. The reason, I learned, is because tiny flecks of aluminum in deodorant look very similar to calcifications, which can be an early sign of breast cancer.

Once I was dressed in my robe, I stepped across the hall into the mammography suite. My mammography tech, Alisa, again explained what would happen, then it was go-time. So is it weird to be half naked (maybe just a quarter) and have someone position your body so that it feels like you’re hugging a giant robot while holding an awkward yoga pose? Yes. And yes, you do get “squeezed” a bit. I had to hold that position – and my breath – while the camera recorded its images. Fortunately, it only took a few seconds.

Then we did the whole routine over again for the other side. After that, Alisa told me she wanted to take images from a couple extra angles for clarity’s sake. She told me this is the case for about 25 percent of women. Each woman’s anatomy is different, and some may require different angles to get the images needed. But she assured me there was no reason to worry just because she wanted extra images; she was simply making sure she got an accurate and complete set of images.

When it was all over, she ushered me back across the hallway to change out of my robe. All told, the whole appointment took about 30 minutes.

Alisa had told me that I would receive a letter in the mail after about a week if the mammogram was clear, and if there was anything that needed additional attention, I would receive a phone call. As it turned out, the results made it to my MyChart account more quickly than that – an all-clear this time around.

So I hear I get to do this all over again next year. But I suppose it’s not such a terrible thing to have to go through each year, considering it has the potential to prevent breast cancer from developing undetected inside me. Next time, though, I’ll wait until after the mammogram to put on deodorant.

If you’re ready to schedule your own mammogram, call 864-522-9729. Note that you do not need a doctor’s referral to schedule a mammogram.

Lark Reynolds is an editorial services coordinator with Prisma Health.

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