Our favourite blogger Leslie wrote a very open and candid view of her mammogram experience in ‘My Breast Screening Mammogram’ and here Claire answers some more of your questions about the whole experience, and shares a little about her own mammogram appointment.
Do we all feel the same?
For those of you who read Leslie’s post I’m not sure how it made you feel. Myself, I howled with laughter at honesty of it and also at the fact that I too had had very similar feelings on my recent experience at a mammography unit. My experience was from a slightly different perspective; I had gone to the breast clinic as I had found a lump in my breast, so although it wasn’t quite the same as going for a regular mammogram, the thoughts and feelings were similar.
So…even though I was a mammographer myself I found myself completely vulnerable, isolated, and helpless and had a million questions rattling around in my head for the mammographer. I had no idea why, as I knew the answers to all of these questions, but all of a sudden I was a ‘patient’ – I was on ‘the other side’. It surprised me, and made me wonder what you feel like going for breast screening and so I have attempted to answer some of the common questions that you may have when you prepare for a mammogram.
I now know that when you are stood there half naked, very vulnerable and, in my experience, unable to even remember my date of birth, there is no way you can even begin to ask some of these even if you want to! Here’s where the WoMMeN team come in, if my answers don’t give you all the information you need then we’re only too happy to help with the answers!
My breasts are small, I’m almost flat-chested! Can you still do a mammogram?
Yes of course, mammograms can be carried out on all breast sizes and shapes. We are not all the same. Yes there may be a little bit of moving about into the mammogram machine for you to get you in the right position, but all breast sizes can be imaged. Did you know that men have mammograms too? The machines will x-ray any size of breast!
Why am I standing on tiptoe?
The mammographer has to get your breast into the xray machine in the right position so that it can be imaged correctly, and this means lifting the breast up high – higher than everyone’s breasts are naturally!
The mammographers try whenever possible to make sure that you are as comfortable as possible and stood flat on your feet but occasionally this is not possible. Try to stay flat on your feet and let the breast lift up, instead of you, but very occasionally you may have to stand a bit awkwardly, and raise one of your feet a little onto your tiptoes, although if you feel like you’re not balanced then let the mammographer know.
Why does it have to hurt so much?
Unlike some other organs of our body our breasts are mobile and move about a lot. Most of us can’t run down the road without the help of a bra… I can’t run down the road at all! So when you have a mammogram you need to keep your breasts still to reduce the motion.
Your breast tissue is squashed down which can be uncomfortable, this is called compression. From mine and Leslies experience it made us ‘grit our teeth’ and from my experience it made me do exactly the same. I counted slowly to 5 and it seemed to be over after that.
The mammographers have to squash your breast tissue so that they can get a really clear image of your breast tissue. It’s like taking a picture, it needs to be still and in focus so it is clear and all the details of the tissue inside your breast can be seen. Very importantly it reduces the thickness of your breast tissue so that it gets as small a dose of radiation as possible. The best thing to do when you are preparing for a mammogram is try and stay calm as it really does help the mammographer to position your breast and then this will help you feel more relaxed … which means less discomfort.
Why all the questions?
It is really important for the mammographer to have your correct information. You will be asked your date of birth (which I couldn’t remember!) and your name and address. You’ll also be asked about your breast medical history and associated breast problems. It is really important, and I can’t stress this enough, to let the mammographer know if you have a pacemaker or breast implants or any breast augmentation / fillers. This is so that they can adapt the examination specifically for you.
How do I get my results?
For breast screening you will get a letter in the post within 2 weeks of your appointment and your GP will also receive a copy of this. Symptomatically you will get instructions on how to receive your results at your clinic appointment.
If all is ‘normal’ then you don’t have to do anything and you will receive another invitation for screening in 3 years time. If you are over 70 though and enjoying retirement then please contact your breast screening centre to make your own appointment.
I have to come back for another mammogram – what does that mean?
Sometimes you need to return for some more tests and this will be called an ‘assessment clinic’. It is what it says on the tin, it is a clinic where they will assess your breasts in a bit more detail. This will be because on your initial mammogram images there was something that was not clear which needs further investigation. I understand it is easy to say ‘don’t panic’, it is completely ridiculous to say this! Yet if you try and stay as calm as you can and the staff in the clinic can perform an ultrasound, more mammograms and maybe a biopsy of your breast. The results of any biopsies taken are back in a week and though this will be the longest ever week of your life, the results of ultrasounds and mammograms are usually available on the day itself.
Remember all the staff in the assessment clinics are specially trained and there to help you. Even though you may feel scared and nervous they are there to support you.
Like Claire said, the WoMMeN team are here to answer any questions about mammograms – post a comment here, or go to the forums and ask a question there. We’re happy to help: Mammograms Matter!