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One for Each Decade—The Four Things You Need to Know About Your First Mammogram on Your 40th Birthday

Happy 40th birthday!

After you’ve celebrated this milestone with your friends and family, taken some time to reflect on your four decades of life and treated yourself to some “me time,” it’s time to schedule your first annual screening mammogram.

For many women, this “to-do” list item may cause anxiety—Will it hurt? What if something abnormal is detected? How will I even make time for the appointment?

To answer those questions, we asked Cathy Palmieri, RT (M), who has worked for more than 25 years as a mammography technologist in the Breast Imaging and Diagnostic Centre at Brigham and Women’s Faulkner Hospital. She helps up to 60 women through the mammogram process each week.

“It’s easy!” she says.

“When a first-timer comes in, all of the technologists here at the center, make it a point to spend a little extra time explaining the process,” says Palmieri. “We know most of you are nervous so we do everything we can to put you at ease.”

So What Can I Expect During My First Mammogram?

Palmieri says there are four things women should know ahead of their first mammogram.

The appointment only takes 20 to 30 minutes—Everyone is so busy these days. Most women will take time off of work to bring their children or elderly parents to doctor’s appointments, but when it’s their turn, they just can’t seem to find the time in their schedule. There is no excuse when it comes to a mammogram. The average screening mammogram takes just 20 to 30 minutes and we even offer evening hours for convenience.

The exam itself is not that bad—A lot of women feel self-conscious about being exposed or worried that it will hurt. We do everything we can to make you as comfortable as possible from the time you walk through the door to the time you leave. Coming prepared helps. We ask women to avoid wearing dresses or other one-piece outfits. That way, when you arrive, you can easily remove your top and change into a specially designed (though not very fashionable) mammogram gown. The garment allows the technologist to expose one breast at a time so that you are never fully exposed during the exam. For most women, the compression needed to get a quality image of your breast may be slightly uncomfortable. However, for some patients with more sensitive breasts, it can be painful. We will suggest breathing and positioning techniques to make it as painless as possible and ensure we get a good quality image as fast as possible.

Your mammogram will be read by an expert in breast imaging—After your appointment with a technologist, the images of your breasts, captured by 3D mammography, will be sent to a Brigham and Women’s board-certified subspecialist radiologist who has dedicated their career to breast imaging. Our radiologists know exactly what to look for and can spot even the tiniest of abnormalities. You can have peace of mind knowing your exam is read by radiologists from Brigham Health. If something is seen, you will come back for a follow-up ultrasound and a treatment plan, if required, will begin.

After your first mammogram, you might be called back for more imaging. Don’t worry!—Your first mammogram sets the baseline for your breasts’ “normal.” Sometimes, the radiologist might call you back for a follow-up if they see something they do not normally see on other women’s mammograms. These spots are usually nothing to worry about. By the time you schedule your next mammogram a year later, the radiologist will know what your breasts normally look like based on your first set of images. In your second year and every year going forward, the radiologist will just be looking for changes.

While most women would rather spend 20 to 30 minutes doing something else, a yearly screening mammogram after age 40 is one of the best things you can do for yourself and your family.

Schedule yours today! Call 617-983-7272.

Updated 8/10/22

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