Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about my health and after feeling a little discomfort in my right breast, I decided to pick up the phone and make an appointment to see someone about it. It’s weird how long it took me to do it. Whenever any of my kids get a cold I am on the phone to make an appointment “just in case” in a flash, but when it comes to my own health I do somewhat neglect it.
Before I go any further I want to assure you all that everything is okay. The results, which I received literally three minutes after I had the test done came back as “all fine” and “nothing to worry about”, but the reason I wanted to write about my experience was firstly to encourage women to get tested, if and when needed, but also because I want to prepare those who are considering a mammogram for what they should expect because I for one had no idea what is was going to be like.
Firstly let me explain what mammograms are for those who are not entirely familiar.
In very simple terms, a mammogram is an X ray on the breast and its goal is the early detection of Breast cancer. It is the most accurate and fastest way to get answers (you could do an MRI scan too but those take far longer and are generally more expensive so you would probably only get them if the mammogram came back as showing something unwanted). Ultrasounds are also used but often as a complementary tool because they are unable to show features the mammogram can so they would probably be less effective if used as the only tool to examine your breasts.
When to have a mammogram changes depending on which country you are based in and the health services provided, but normally women above 45 are recommended to have one every few years (and some women who are younger if they are presenting symptoms like lumps or pain or have a family history of breast cancer and therefor are in a higher risk group).
The exam itself takes less than five minutes and the results are immediate although written results are provided a few days later after a second consultant reviews the images to confirm the findings.
I was taken into the room, the technician explained what was going to happen and gave me a couple of leaflets to read and I was asked to sign a consent form like with any X ray.
The machine was larger than I thought it would be. It is adjustable to suit any height because you need to be able to place your boobs in the right place.
I took my top and bra off and stood in front of the machine. The technician adjusted the heights and asked me to place my boobs on the tray in front of me.
Now here is the awkward, uncomfortable thing that I didn’t know.
In order for the machine to work properly, the breast needs to be “spread out” so once I placed my boob on the tray, another part of the machine came down and started squashing it and flattening it out on the tray like a pancake!
This was not fun.
Once the breast is as flat as it can possibly be (in my case very flat cos after breastfeeding lets face it, there’s nothing much left in those babies), the technician took the image and quickly released me from this very uncomfortable possession.
She took two images of each breast, and the second one was taken at a 45c angle, so once the breast was placed on the tray, she rotated the tray to the correct angle and then pressed down like before.
I gotta tell you with no offence to the amazing inventors out there, they really need to come up with something just as efficient but much friendlier and not as painful – a few hours later I could still feel my boobs a little sour from the pulling and squashing!
Whilst I was there I ask the consultant to show me how to examine my own breasts and to explain what I should look out for. It’s kinda embarrassing, but I don’t think I ever actually knew till I asked. Something about taking about my boobs to someone I am not planning to have sex with has always felt a bit odd and I suspect that for many women this is another one of those taboo topics that no one actually gets into but everyone nods and agree is very important.
Well here is a little list of things to think about when examining your own breast (which shoud be done on a regular basis by the way). Please note that I am NOT a doctor and I am not giving you a complete list, just what I was told during my own visit to the breast clinic so kindly look up more information and talk to your doctor):
- While laying on your back, use a firm, smooth touch with the first few finger pads of your hand and keep your fingers flat and together to check one breast at a time.
- Use circular motions, covering the entire breast from top to bottom, side to side, including in your armpits and cleavage.
- Look at your breasts in the mirror with your shoulders straight and your arms on your hips. Pay attention to any changes in size, color of your nipples, dimpling, puckering, or bulging of the skin, redness, soreness, rash, or swelling.
- Look for any signs of fluid coming out of one or both nipples (this could be a watery, milky, or yellow fluid or blood).
And the bottom line is that if you feel anything, if something has changed or if you feel discomfort and are even just a little bit worried, if you have a history of breast cancer in the family (mom, sister, grandmother), or if you are in your late 40’s and above, it’s probably a good idea to think about getting checked or at least chatting to your doctor about it.