Mammograms no #039;horror story#039;, designed to save lives

Published 12:00 am Saturday, October 8, 2005

A mammogram is, simply put, a breast x-ray which can cover unexpected problems in women with no other symptoms.

Mammograms can save lives, yet many women age 40 and over don't get their annual mammography screenings as doctors encourage them to do. For some, it's the fear of unknown, and the stories they've heard about what an 'awful' experience a mammogram can be.

"Sure, mammograms can be a bit uncomfortable. But don't believe the horror stories people have passed around. They just aren't that bad," Kay Harris says.

She should know. Harris, a radiology tech with eleven years of experience, spends her days at LV Stabler Memorial Hospital performing the potentially life-saving exam on patients.

She's makes every effort to put her patients at ease.

"A lot of women are nervous about having this procedure done in the first place. So I've tried to give the room a more feminine, less threatening atmosphere from the moment they walk in," she explains.

Pastel pillar candles and delicate-looking wrought iron and rattan screens, entwined with ivy and pink roses, are not what you might typically expect to find surrounding a mammography machine.

However, Harris finds patients give the d\u00E9cor a "thumbs up."

"It helps makes them more comfortable about the whole experience," she says with a smile.

Patients can expect to spend about 15-20 minutes during their visit to Harris' room. "There's a brief questionnaire to fill out and we will go over it together. They will need to undress from the waist up, and then we'll take a few pictures," Harris explains.

For those who have never had a mammogram before, Harris takes a little extra time to explain, step by step, the series of "pictures" that will be shot.

"I tell them, yes, there will be some pressure, some discomfort - but nothing bad. We will be looking at not only the fatty tissue of the breast, but also the chest wall and area around the breast. We want to be thorough," Harris says.

She also shares information about performing breast self-exams with mammography patients.

"If patients have had mammographies in other hospitals, we arrange to get those results so we can compare and see if there are any changes," Harris says.

Harris likes to preach the gospel of early detection.

"You need to get your mammogram done every year if you are over 40, along with your pap smear. I suggest you use your birthday month as the time you have those tests and exams done. Do a monthly breast self exam and have your doctor check your breasts during your annual physical," she stresses.

After all, a little discomfort is worth it.

"Routine tests and exams like these can mean the difference between life and death," Harris says.