Mammograms: The Ultimate Survival Guide

by Angie Lynch



Mammograms are one of the best screening tools to detect breast cancer early. For most woman, the thought of being told to take their clothes off, followed by someone touching their boobs & pointing them towards a piece of equipment would inspire shrieks of excitement and pleasure. I assure you this is not the case when one is faced with the annual mammogram. This is when the giant squash machine stands before you, makes your boobs feel like flat pancakes and the only shrieks you’ll hear from most woman is “ouch”.

When to get your first mammogram

With breast cancer, early detection is key. Mammography has evolved over the years & can be one of the best screening tools to identify cancer earlier on, especially if there are lumps or bumps causing concern.

Medical advice states to have your first mammogram at 40 or 45 and then every year thereafter, but studies do differ.  It also depends if there is a family history of breast cancer & other factors that may make it prudent to have a mammogram earlier. I’ve always had a busy & productive lifestyle & my family will tell you I was renowned for pushing things aside that seemed to get in the way of me achieving my goals.

After finding a large lump in my right breast in the shower when I was just 28, my first instinct was to ignore it. A few days later I felt it again. For once, thank my lucky stars, I immediately booked an appointment & after an exam, my GP sent me off to have my first mammogram. Most of the woman in the waiting area seemed to be quite a bit older. I felt so out of place. Then I got ushered off to put on my designer blue gown and got told to have the ties in the front for easy access.

When I entered the room, I was faced with what looked like a giant torture chamber. I sat down & swallowed hard.

When to schedule your mammogram

The best time to schedule your mammogram is a week after your menstrual cycle, your breasts will be less tender during this time. It’s not ideal to have a mammogram the week before or during your menstrual cycle. 

How to prepare for a mammogram

Here is a mammogram checklist for when you attend your mammogram appointment, so you can handle it like a pro.

DO these 5 things at your next mammogram:

  • Wear a 2 piece as you’ll have no clothing form the waist up during your x-ray
  • Take your previous scans with you
  • Book your appointment a week or more after your menstrual cycle
  • Voice any concerns you may ahead of the mammogram
  • Tell the doctor if you think you may be pregnant

DON”T do these 5 things at your next mammogram:

  • Schedule your mammogram during or directly after your menstrual cycle
  • Wear make-up, deodorant, perfume or powder
  • Wear any jewellery
  • Forget to collect your results and schedule your annual appointment
  • Stress or be scared, you are being pro-active and should celebrate that

What questions will be asked 

  • Your Age
  • Do you have any history of breast cancer in your family?
  • Do you have implants?
  • Are you wearing antiperspirants (this is a no-no for a mammogram)
  • When was your last menstrual cycle?
  • Are you pregnant?
  • Are there any lumps or bumps you are concerned about?

What to expect when getting a mammogram

So what is the process for a mammogram?

The technician places you face on in front of the machine. One breast at a time is placed on the machine & the breast is then compressed. Then the machine is tilted at an angle to get as much of the breast & armpit area in as possible.

The mammogram procedure is not pretty, but it’s practical. It’s not very painful but more of a discomfort from the compression.

The entire process lasts about 10-15 minutes. In most cases, the doctor will call you with your results within a day or two.

I was asked to wait for the results, I knew something was wrong. After about 45 minutes of flipping through waiting room magazines, a technician called me to face the big white envelope with my results. She said the doctor would discuss the results with me. I could see the worry in her eyes and I knew it was serious. I waited for her to drop the Big “C”, but she didn’t. Instead, she booked me for an urgent appointment with a specialist surgeon the next day in order to investigate further, with a biopsy.

Understanding the results

When I looked at the report it had identified 2 lumps, one 4cms in size and one 2,5cm in size. Words like mass lesion, nodal infiltration were all overwhelming. And then the words ” numerous features associated with malignancy stared back at me. The x-rays showed my 2 lumps, they were easy to identify on the scans as they lit up like a bright moon against a dark background when I held them up to the light.

The lingo in the report is full of medical terms so be sure to have your doctor explain each line in detail so you understand what it means. The specialist surgeon explained everything in detail after I had my biopsy.

The Mammogram Pain is Worth The Gain

Looking back now, going for that mammogram was one of the best decisions I ever made. It literally saved my life and I am a breast cancer survivor. 12 years later I continue to go for mammograms. Although because of my mastectomy, implant & reconstruction I only have the left side done and the right side is checked using sonography/ultrasound.

Mammograms are not much fun but on the positive side you do get to wear a blue designer gown and you never know, maybe a charming doctor will deliver the results to you, just like in an episode of Grey’s Anatomy. Pancakes anyone?