I got a jump start on Breast Cancer Awareness Month (October 1st-31st) when I went for my very first mammogram on Wednesday morning. I’ve known I should get one for months, but I was preoccupied with other health issues and put it off. (I know, I know…) Part of my reluctance was related to the fact that I don’t have a family doctor, a problem faced by many here in BC. Fortunately, I checked out the BC Cancer Agency’s website and noticed that having a Naturopathic Doctor (ND) qualified me to call their central booking line and get an appointment almost immediately. (The only delay came when they had to reach out to my ND to confirm me as her patient which took about an hour.) My appointment was booked for one week later (though there had been options for even sooner) and I was given several options for a location. I chose a screening clinic downtown because it was the one most accessible by transit and I was already familiar with the building where it was located.
On the day of the mammogram, you’re asked to refrain from applying any deodorant, lotion, powder, etc because they say it can interfere with the readability of the results. (Having been through the process, I think it helps to avoid any slipping and sliding as well.) It’s also a good idea to keep in mind that you’ll be topless from the waist up so it isn’t really a time for dresses or jumpsuits of any kind.
I arrived almost thirty minutes before my 8:30 appointment, but I was given a survey to complete during my wait. It was quick and easy: family history of breast cancer, age at first period, pregnancy history, etc. As quickly as I’d filled it out, my technician, Suzie, introduced herself and led me to the room where my exam would take place. We chatted for a short time while she confirmed all my information and explained what we’d be doing during our visit.
From the BC Cancer Agency website:
- A female technologist will place your breast on a special x-ray machine. A plastic plate will be pressed down slowly to flatten your breast and hold it in place for a few seconds.
- You will feel some pressure on your breast for a few seconds during the x-ray. Compression is necessary to spread the breast tissue and eliminate motion, which may blur the picture. This may be uncomfortable and usually lasts no more than 10 seconds. Let the technologist know if you experience pain as she will work with you to make your appointment more comfortable.
- Four pictures are taken, two of each breast. The technologist will check the pictures to make sure they are good quality for the radiologist to read. If needed, the technologist may take additional pictures.
That explains it very well. It’s a little squeezy, a little smooshy, but it’s nothing too uncomfortable and it really doesn’t last for long. We took six photos because Suzie wanted to retake a couple and I walked out at exactly the time my mammogram was scheduled to begin.
I found out that most first mammograms require some follow-up. This is because there is nothing to reference them against. Once you have a history in the system, the radiologists will know more about your breast tissue and be able to look back to better detect changes. I was told that if the radiologist who looks at my scans spots something that needs investigation, I’ll likely hear from my ND within 4-5 days. If nothing out of the ordinary appears, I’ll receive a letter from the Cancer Agency saying I got the all clear and should book another mammogram in two years.
I’ve been so pleasantly impressed by the entire BC Cancer Agency Mammogram Screening process. From my first phone call to getting dressed and leaving the clinic, my experience was quick, thorough and extremely easy. They’re doing such a great job! If you think you might be someone who should get a mammogram, take a look at the agency’s mammogram page or call 1-800-663-9203. (And remember – you don’t need a referral from your doctor to get one.)
Have you had a mammogram or other cancer screening? What was your experience like?