First mammogram at 40 – what to expect

June 15, 2013

you'll get it eventually.

you’ll get it eventually.

I had my first mammogram yesterday and I wanted to jot a few things down as to what happened and what someone else should expect on their first. I do this from time to time because it’s nice to be able to Google a question like “What to expect at my first mammogram” and not get an answer that was written by a 20-year-old male intern at a PR firm that was hired by a cancer center.

I was told not to wear deodorant or put powder or lotion on the girls that morning. Fair enough, it *was* a day off for me so I’m used to not exerting effort. Based on advice I read online, I took an ibuprofen an hour before the appointment.

The office requested that I arrive 10 minutes before my 9:30am appointment for some paperwork, so I did just that. The receptionist processed my photo ID, referral and insurance card as I filled out the form. I was the only person in the front waiting room.

The artwork on the walls featured Monet and Renoir prints. I laughed inside at this. Why? Because they’re imPRESSionists! Haaaaaaaaaaa!

At 9:30 they took me back to the inner waiting room, where I went into a curtained closet and shed my jacket, top & bra in exchange for a (worthless) short top that tied closed. When I was finished, I sat in one of the chairs and waited. A woman came back from the scanning room and sat in a chair next to me, sniffling. I stopped laughing inside.

I was called into the scanning room, which was small and darkened, with THE MACHINE in the middle and a plexiglassed area in the corner where the technician stood to take the images. The technician told me to relax and that I’d be out in five minutes. Okay. She told me to take off the left side of the shirt first. But it was difficult keeping the other part on my shoulders so I asked her if I could just take it off. Go big or go home, right?

The machine adjusts up and down. I had two images of each side — one straight up and down, and the other diagonally. For the vertical shot, the girl went onto the imaging plate as far in as it could go. This means I was leaning forward with my head turned to the side and my cheek against the top machine. The technician brought down then the clear plastic top tray. Smoosh. Then she tightened it manually by turning a knob (smooshier!) went into the corner, and took the shot. There was an “ooof!” level of discomfort, but nothing unmanageable. The machine automatically released after the shot was taken.

For the diagonal view, the trays were turned to a 45 degree angle. I was told to put my left arm out and grab a handle toward the back of the machine. I also had to turn my head again. I was thankful for that because I didn’t want to see the smooshing through the clear top tray. Some things I can go a lifetime without seeing.

The process was repeated on the right side, and I was indeed out of the scanning room in five minutes. I caught glimpses of the images, but as I don’t know what to look for, I didn’t look for anything. They didn’t need any additional scans at that time, so I was free to go. I went back to the changing room, and the sniffling woman was still there in her worthless tie-top with a pamphlet about breast tissue. Good thoughts to her.

I changed back into my top, used the deodorant I tucked in my purse, and left. They whole shebang was done in 20 minutes.

Now, we wait. If they see anything weird or need more scans, they’ll call on Monday. If things look okay, I’ll get a letter saying such next week.

Once my adrenaline wore off, the girls were tender for the rest of the day.

Summary: Although I was dreading this for MONTHS, it wasn’t unmanageable or painful.


  • Ibuprofen ahead of time. I took an 800mg one that I had left over from the root canal/apicoectomy era.
  • If you can put your hair in ponytail, do so. Even though mine is at my shoulders, the hair was getting caught between the trays because I had to tilt my head to the side.
  • Bring deodorant for use afterward. I think I was equally stressed about the possibility of sweating/stinking in the room as I was about the flattening. A stick of Sure in the bag helped.

Unsolicited opinion:
If more women shamelessly wrote candid accounts of these procedures instead of doing the cheeky/coy/stupid Facebook memes where you reveal your bra color or your shoe size plus the word inches in the name of “awareness” the world would be a better place.

And with that, I’ve done more for breast health awareness than any manufacturer of pink tennis balls has.

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  • Dr. D June 15, 2013 at 9:15 am

    An admirable effort in the name of public service. I’ll let you know when my first prostate exam post goes up!

    (Remember when we were YOUNG? Sigh…)

  • Marilyn June 15, 2013 at 1:53 pm

    I wish I’d known about the “Ibuprofen ahead of time.” I got a mammogram before 40 (long story) and despite a very cheery and empathetic technician it was plenty painful. >:-(