Friday, October 21, 2011

Mammograms then and now

I'm not sure how I feel about mammogram screenings for a woman my age (I will be 41 in December). I had heard the new recommendations suggesting that screenings weren't necessary for healthy women with no family history until age 50. A friend of mine is insistent on this and brings a printout of the guidelines with her to doctor's appointments. I have no family history of breast cancer or really cancer of any kind.

When I was 35, the gynocologist I was seeing at the time said a baseline was recommended even for healthy women, and I said yes. This was only about 5-6 years ago, obviously, but it was pre-digital mammograms. I had always heard that mammograms were painful. I didn't find it painful, just weird and a little embarassing. I must not have stood still enough, because they called me back for more pictures because one was blurry. I was anxious because I thought there was something wrong and they just weren't telling me. I got the all-clear a few days later and breathed a big sigh of relief.

I got a physical a couple of months ago just to make sure everything is still going OK, and my doctor said, "Some people are saying women only need to be screened every two years, but I recommend going every year." I'm not forceful like my friend and I didn't even mention the recommendation that healthy women don't need mammograms, I just went. I'm not sure I want to go every year or every other year, though.

I made sure to schedule my appointment in September, knowing with all the breast cancer awareness stuff in October, it might be a little more crowded. Our local hospital has a whole "Breast Care Center," and it was a little intimidating to me to walk in there for a routine mammogram when many of the women who go there are probably already dealing with a diagnosis. I remember feeling grateful that I was probably fine. Despite the fanciness of the center, I was given an old hospital gown to put on backward, which didn't really seem suitable for the purpose of the screening. The garment was huge and didn't fasten in any way that allowed for modesty. I would have really appreciated something that worked more like a bathrobe.

The machine looked different than I remembered. This hospital has all digital mammograms. I said something to the technician that at least I wouldn't have to be called back later for more pictures. She said, actually, that sometimes the radiologists who read the mammograms still call women back to get different views. Great, I thought.

Again, despite the whole "squishing" lore, I didn't find it painful or even that uncomfortable, just weird. I don't really like changing my clothes in a locker room, so even though the technician was very nice and professional, I felt weird about having someone arranging my breast for photographing. Other than that, and my own anxiety about the idea of being screened for cancer, it wasn't so bad. I got my all-clear letter a few days later.

I'm still not sure I want to go back again next year.

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