health

Five things your mammographer wishes you knew.

There’s no experience in life quite like the mammogram. There have been plenty of attempts to encourage women to get enthusiastic about the biennial boob squeeze, but there’s always going to be a certain level of anxiety involved with getting your girls out in front of a stranger.

If you knew all of the things your mammographer knew, chances are you’d be far less stressed about the prospect of getting your breasts checked.

So, here’s what your mammographer wants you to know.

1. Your boobs are fine.

If I had a dollar for every time a woman apologised for the appearance of her rack, I could retire.

“I’m sorry they’re so big!” or “I’m sorry they’re so small!” are among the most common things mammographers hear. Honestly, your boobs are unremarkable and there’s nothing that will stop us getting the images we need – your small/large boobs aren’t getting you out of this!

We’ve seen smaller, we’ve seen bigger, we’ve seen wonkier, we’ve seen more hair, more moles, more scars, more lumps. Trust me, you are ordinary.

We know that it can feel weird getting your cans out in front of strangers, but we’ve seen so many in our life that to us they’re just another body part. Hands, knees, faces, breasts, whatever – there’s no difference to us!

tiny fey mammograms
"Hands, knees, faces, breasts, whatever!" Image via Warner Bros. Pictures.
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2. The best thing you can do to help is not try to help.

Even if you’ve had 10 mammograms before and you know the whole drill, trying to position yourself or putting your puppies on the plates is actually really unhelpful.

Although the images we take are the same for every mammogram (mostly), each mammographer has a different technique. Even the slightest little things make a difference – where we get you to place your hand, how we tilt your shoulder. We’ll let you know what we need you to do.

The most helpful thing you can do might be the hardest: relax. The more relaxed you are, the more relaxed your pectoral muscle is, and the more of your breast tissue we can image.

3. We genuinely don’t know if there’s anything wrong.

Honestly. Cross my heart. When we go back behind that screen and check your images, we are only checking the quality – that they’re not blurry, that you’re positioned correctly, and that we’ve covered everything. We couldn’t even diagnose you if we tried.

The radiologist, who’s the one who actually reads your images, looks at them on super-high definition screens and compares your old mammograms with your new one. They’re looking for really subtle changes and teeny, tiny details.

When you ask us if it’s ‘all clear’ and we tell you that you have to ‘wait until the specialist looks at it’, we’re not being big meanies and drawing out the tension. We genuinely just can’t tell you.

Its that time of the year???????? A photo posted by Sofia Vergara (@sofiavergara) on

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4. Needing to have extra pictures taken does not mean something is wrong.

A standard mammogram consists of the same four pictures. If we have to do one again, it’s not because something’s wrong (see above: we actually don’t know). Mostly we have to repeat images when they’re blurry or haven’t included everything we needed to.

If you have to come back into the room after the specialist has looked at the images, it still doesn’t necessarily mean that anything is wrong. The extra pictures we take are of particular areas that the radiologist wants to have a closer look at.

There are often totally benign reasons for something not looking right on a mammogram – breast tissues overlapping, or normal calcifications – and these extra pictures just confirm that.

How to check for breast lumps, demonstrated on a fine set of man boobs. Post continues after video. 

It’s even more common for women to need extra pictures taken for their first mammogram. When the radiologist doesn’t have old images to compare with it’s harder for them to tell what’s normal for you and what’s not.

5. It sucks when you take your stress out on us.

Yep, mammograms are uncomfortable, but they’re the best we’ve got right now. The earlier breast cancer is detected, the better the outcomes. We all know this.

Like vaccinations and pap tests, mammograms are no fun, but we’re really lucky that we have these services available. It takes five minutes and in a lot of cases it’s free.

Remember: you don’t have to have a mammogram – no one is forcing you, least of all your mammographer. You opting out of your appointment gives us five minutes to have a cup of tea. But we hope you won't.

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Mammograms are strongly encouraged because the potential consequences of not having your mammogram are far worse than the procedure itself, but the decision to have it or not is yours to make.

lisa wilkinson mammogram
"Needing to have extra pictures taken does not mean something is wrong." A perfect example is Lisa Wilkinson's on-air mammogram in 2013. Image via Getty.

Women express their stress and anxiety about having a mammogram in a lot of different ways, and we’re used to it. Unfortunately, some of the time, it means taking it out on the mammographer. This is all part of the job and we cop it on the chin because we have to in order to get the job done, but it does hurt.

The two worst questions are the sarcastic ‘Is this what you do all day?’ and ‘Do you like this job?’. Mammographers aren’t sadistic women who got into this profession because they love making women uncomfortable.

To the lay person it seems like all we do all day is grab breasts, but taking a good mammogram is an art and a science and it takes a lot of technical knowledge and interpersonal skills to do it right. We just make it look easy because we’re professionals. At the end of the day, we’re saving lives.

And, for every woman who jokes ‘why don’t men have to get this done?!’, just remember that they have to have prostate exams.

What are you thinking during your mammogram?