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Hate Mammograms? Read This.

One tech’s tips for a pleasant mammo experience.

There are seven hangers lined up in a row on the wall. All but one of them has a patient robe hanging from it.
Photo credit: Trunk
A woman with dark hair wears blue surgical scrubs. She has her hand on the back of another woman with blond hair. The woman with blond hair has one arm out of her hospital gown as she holds the edge of a mammogram machine.

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Aimee Botsch, mammography technologist, oversees breast imaging services for Northwell Health.

I know that when you come in for a mammogram—whether it’s for a routine check or because you’ve found something suspicious and you need more information—you probably feel anxious. After all, you’re ultimately here for a cancer screening, not a photo shoot. Many women feel more than a little tense and want nothing more than to finish up and get on with their day. I get it. I’m a woman, too. I’ve stood in your shoes. So please know that my goal is to take care of you.

I became a mammography technologist for two reasons. The first is that I’ve always been fascinated by radiology—the combination of technology and medicine to keep people healthy was a draw for me. The second: Every woman on my father’s side of our family has eventually developed—and survived—breast cancer. It’s personal for me. And I want to help others survive.

In my 18 years of conducting mammograms, I’ve learned some strategies that might make your mammogram experience a little less stressful and much more productive.

About Us

Like I said, I, and all mammogram technologists, have been exactly where you are when you’re getting your exam. So we all know what you’re going through. It falls somewhere between a little nerve-racking to downright scary. But as patients, we technologists find it comforting to know that the person conducting the exam actually cares about us, our comfort and our well-being.

Our training is pretty extensive. We go to school for radiology where we study radiation physics, radiation anatomy and physiology, and learn to maintain and test the machines. After two to four years, we take our boards. If we choose to stay in mammography, there is an additional certification exam that licenses us as mammography technologists.

We consider ourselves detectives and our job is to help piece together the puzzle for the radiologist while keeping you as comfortable as possible. If that means casual conversation while we are performing your test, we love that! I’ve gotten some of the greatest makeup and hair tips from my patients. If it means being an empathetic shoulder to cry on, we’re here for that, too. So please tell us what you need…which leads me to my top four tips for a better mammogram experience:

1. Talk to me

Like you, I’m a woman, a mother, a friend and a compassionate human being. I hate it when you wince in pain. I am trained to read your body language, but I can’t read your mind. If your mammogram hurts, I want you to tell me. I have all kinds of tricks up my sleeve to make you more comfortable. For example, did you know that if you slouch while I’m compressing your breasts, it hurts less? Because when you slouch, your shoulders are down and your breasts are not being pulled. Bad posture is excellent for mammography. Also, if the automatic compression is too hard on you, I can do it manually so it’s a gentler squeeze. I know you’re strong—you’re a woman. But if you tell me what’s going on in that stoic head of yours, I can probably make you more comfortable. 

2. Always bring your past films

You know how they say a picture is worth a thousand words? Well it’s never more true than with your mammogram pictures. When you come in for your appointment, we are looking at the here and now. But so much of what we need to study lives in your prior films. Without them, we will not have the complete picture of you and your body. Your past images and reports tell the technologist what has been going on in the past and guides us as we figure out what’s going on today. Please remember to bring them with you! If you return to the same center year after year, they will already be on file. 

3. Tell me everything

Ah, those pesky questionnaires! I know they’re a pain to fill out. Nobody likes paperwork—especially if it seems like needless busywork. But I promise you, those questionnaires play an essential role in helping me and your radiologist piece together the mystery of your body. The more information we have, the more thorough a job we can do. And we need your help: When was your last breast exam? Are you having any problems today? Do you have a family history of breast cancer? Why are you here? All of these things need to be documented to give us and your future technologists the big picture. Remember, we are detectives. And we need as much information as possible to do our jobs well and help you.

4. Don’t worry if we stay mum

I wish more than anything that I could give you your results right away. I want to help you relax. Or to give you the important information you’ve been waiting for. But I’m not allowed. This is an FDA rule. My job is to gather every piece of information I can. That means my goal is to take the clearest, highest quality images possible for the doctor to interpret. And the doctor needs time to think and do his or her job. I know how hard it is to be patient in this situation. But please believe me when I tell you, you don’t want to rush this part. After we check and recheck, we’ll be in touch.

The bottom line is that every woman’s breast tissue is as unique as her fingerprint. We have so much technology available to crack the code of your breast health. That technology, coupled with your open communication and past records, will allow us to do the best job we can. We can contour your exam to you—so be open with us and tell us everything. We love to hear it.

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Published January 2nd, 2019
A woman with dark hair wears blue surgical scrubs. She has her hand on the back of another woman with blond hair. The woman with blond hair has one arm out of her hospital gown as she holds the edge of a mammogram machine.

Take our Breast Health Risk Assessment