This story is part of our partnership with Advocate Condell Medical Center - it is meant to provide an inside look at the mammography experience and give information to the community. Please always consult your own medical professionals as it pertains to your individual care.
Just about everyone has a connection to breast cancer. According to the American Cancer Society in 2015, an estimated 231,840 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed among US women, as well as an estimated 60,290 additional cases of in situ breast cancer. It’s only surpassed by lung cancer for the number of deaths it causes.
Personally, my grandmother died of breast cancer, I have many friends and a mother-in-law who have fought it and survived. Genetically I have a higher risk because of my family history.
There is a lot of confusion and misinformation about when, who, and how you should be checked for breast cancer. Your decision should be based on conversations with your own health care team. I have twice found lumps, had ultrasounds and with my family history, it was recommended that I start mammograms at 36. My 30’s were spent having babies and nursing those babies. Mammograms should not be done while pregnant or nursing, but it is recommended to be done six months after weaning. Every year my OB/GYN wrote me an order to get a screening mammogram six months after weaning and/or pregnancy. The American Congress of Obstetrics and Gynecologists, the American College of Radiology/Society of Breast imaging, American Medical Association, National Comprehensive Cancer Network, American Cancer Society and the US Preventive Service Task Force all recommend starting at age 40.
Despite knowing all this, at 40, I had still not had one. My youngest child is four, it’s been two years since I had a nursing child. Yet I still hadn’t had a mammogram yet. The reasons? Oh there are so many — fear, time, not wanting to know if something was wrong, and pain. As we entered fall and suddenly my days were somewhat empty with four kids in school. I knew it was time to make myself a priority.
You may have seen the billboards that say “Call today, mammogram today” for Advocate. That is not hype; that’s the reality. There are no extensive wait lists or backlogs. I coordinated with our team at Advocate and was set up to be seen within a week on the day and time that was perfect for me. You do not need a referral orders or prescription for your exam. Mammograms are covered by most insurance providers.
There are three Advocate locations for screening mammograms in Lake County: Condell Medical Center, Advocate Grayslake Mammography Center, and Advocate Condell Outpatient Imaging. Advocate was the first hospital in Lake County to offer 3D Mammography, which is what I had done. I chose Condell Medical Center because of the convenience of location for my schedule.
When most people refer to a mammogram, as I have throughout this story, they are referring to a screening mammogram*. A screening mammogram is a routinely administered x-ray of the breast tissue to look for abnormalities; it does not diagnosis or treat breast cancer. As you will see in the video below, the 3D mammography machine scans the breast from left to right, taking pictures of thin slices, and a computer reconstructs the image. Each slice can also be examined so details are more visible and there is less a chance for abnormalities to hide behind overlapping tissue. Screening mammograms take just a few minutes. A diagnostic mammogram is used after suspicious results are found on a routine screening or after a physician has identified some signs of breast cancer. These are a more detailed exams and take longer than a screening.
The Women’s Center at Condell is located right off the main entrance, to the left when you walk in in foyer. The staff is very helpful and the front desk staff on the day I was there was bilingual. Since we were not in a private space, she took great care to not share my personal information out loud, and passed notes over the counter to confirm vital information and numbers.
After finishing the paperwork I was escorted to the back waiting area. This waiting area is pleasant with lots of information, magazines to read, and drinks — coffee, tea, and water. There are private dressing rooms with clean fabric gowns waiting and lockers for your personal belongings.
It is recommended that you do not wear perfume or deodorant, and wearing a two-piece outfit is advised. You only need to undress from the waist up, and the gown really only covers from the waist up well. When I was there all the staff was female and they were very respectful of needs and personal space.
My technician took me into the room, explained the machine and how the process worked. She explained that all the images would read by a board certified radiologist and sent to both my gynecologist and primary care physician. A brief medical history was taken in the room — this is used to assess risk, not to make a diagnosis. I was also able to choose my method for receiving results — phone call, email or mail. The whole thing took less than 30 minutes and I was on my way — wondering why I had not done it sooner.
I know you’re all thinking — but did it hurt? I am not exactly well endowed, a mostly, almost (on a good day) a B-cup. It is definitely not comfortable, and going just days before my period did not help (it is recommended that you do not have them done during your period for this reason). The technician was very gentle and talked me through the whole process. She explained there should be pressure but not pain, and that was definitely the case. Watch the video below to not only see the facility, but part of my actual mammogram (don’t worry, it’s safe for work!).
Since my exam was after 2:00 p.m. it was just over 24 hours before I was called with my results. I also opted to receive a copy in the mail which came a few days later. In addition to the results both my primary and my gynecologists called with the results. Not surprisingly, I was told that I have dense breasts, which I knew from my previous ultrasounds. Breast density is presented on a scale and younger women tend to have denser breasts.^ Since breast tissue is made up of many parts, glands, ducts, fatty and fibrous connective tissues, it simply means that a dense breast has a lot of fibrous or glandular tissue and not a lot of fat. Good to know some part of my body is fat-free! Joking aside breast density is common and it’s not abnormal. Because of the density issue, I have the option to have a follow-up ultrasound. At this time I have not decided what I will do; I have had ultrasounds in the past and I found them to be much more painful than the mammogram. They also have a higher rate of findings that are not cancer that could lead to more tests. I will be discussing my options with my physician at my next appointment.
Mammography is still considered the gold standard for breast cancer screening. The sooner abnormalities and cancer are found, the sooner treatment can begin. Mammograms shouldn’t be considered scary or painful, but a routine procedure you do yearly, or on your doctor’s recommendations, just as you would do a Pap smear. I don’t think any women can say a pap smear is fun or comfortable, but we do it every year anyway and I now look at mammograms the same way.
Contact the Advocate Condell Medical Center Women’s Center at 847-990-6000 to schedule your same-day screening mammogram.
In the event of an emergency, please always dial 9-1-1.
This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medial advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have.
Disclosure: Advocate Condell Medical Center is a paid advertising partner of Little Lake County
* National Breast Cancer Foundation, Inc: http://www.nationalbreastcancer.org/diagnostic-mammogram
^ American Cancer Society: https://www.cancer.org/cancer/breast-cancer/screening-tests-and-early-detection/mammograms/breast-density-and-your-mammogram-report.html