Credit: Beth Coombs/TSM

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Wearing pink is great, but the most important thing you can do to is to get your mammogram. If you're wondering what to expect - I've got you covered.

I get a mammogram every year - sometimes more than once a year - because the women in my family have what are called 'dense breasts' - which just means they're a little harder to image and prone to cysts, which can feel like lumps.

I've been using the MVHS Imaging Center (in the Business Park in Utica) for years, and I like everything about how they do what they do. (I've only got one gripe - a few years ago, they used to have Milano cookies along with coffee in the waiting room. #bringbackthemilanos)

Getting a screening mammogram is the best way to detect breast cancer, and early detection can improve your outcome if cancer is found.

  • About 1 in 8 U.S. women (about 12%) will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime. (breastcancer.org)
  • In 2020, an estimated 276,480 new cases of invasive breast cancer are expected to be diagnosed in women in the U.S., along with 48,530 new cases of non-invasive (in situ) breast cancer. (breastcancer.org)

Even with no history of breast cancer, you should still be screened, and all women should be doing monthly manual breast exams.

A mammogram is an x-ray of the breast. Now, there's even newer technology - a 3-D mammogram. That's the only kind available at the MVHS Imaging Center, and the kind recommended for people with dense breasts, like me. The American Cancer Society says "many studies have found that 3D mammography appears to lower the chance of being called back for follow-up testing. It also appears to find more breast cancers, and several studies have shown it can be helpful in women with more dense breasts." There's a bigger study going on to compare 3-D and 2-D mammograms.

Credit: Beth Coombs/TSM

Here's what you can expect when you get your mammogram:

  • When you show up for your appointment, you'll be checked in like you would be for any other doctor's appointment.
  • When it's your turn, you get called back to the changing area where you'll undress from the waist up, and put on a hospital gown. You're not supposed to wear deodorant, but if you do, they'll have you wipe it off. Pro tip: wear a cardigan to put over your hospital gown, because the rooms can get chilly.
  • Then you'll head to another waiting area, until you're called in for your mammogram.
  • The actual mammogram only takes a few minutes. Yes, your breast does get squished between two plates - although now the plates at the Imaging Center are curved, because, well, boobs are round.
  • Does it hurt? No. Does it feel great? Also, no. I'd describe it as uncomfortable, but tolerable for the few seconds it takes to get the pictures.

Depending on your results, you may be called in for a few extra images, or - if you're like me - you'll get an ultrasound. You'll be notified of the results - and if there's anything they need to examine further, you'll be called back for more tests.

As someone who has had several friends diagnosed with breast cancer, I can't encourage you enough to go and get your breast exam. I promise you, it's worth your health, and your future.