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Overcoming ‘scanxiety’ for mammograms

Lynieve Neilen, Mammography Coordinator at Queensland X-Ray & Radiographer-in-Charge at Queensland X-Ray Mater Women’s Imaging

As a radiographer specialising in Women’s Health for the past 20+years, a mammogram is my “bread and butter”; but for my patients, the experience is often very confronting and potentially life-changing.

So it is perfectly understandable for ladies to be anxious when they arrive at an imaging department for a mammogram and/or breast ultrasound, particularly if you have already faced Breast Cancer.

Anxiety has many presentations – tears, tremors, tense muscles and the inability to understand instructions, amongst others – all detrimental to obtaining a good mammogram.

These manifestations arise for many reasons – concern about radiation, dread about whether the mammogram will hurt following surgery, apprehension because of known family history of breast cancer and fear of recurrence.

If you are attending for your first mammogram following breast surgery, your apprehension about the imaging being painful is very real and perfectly understandable.

It is my job to try to alleviate some of these anxieties when I invite you into my x-ray room. To this end, my belief is that you should feel informed and in control.

My motto is “A good mammogram is a quick mammogram” so my aim is to always position you well and have you compressed in the machine for the shortest possible time. Your job is to relax and let me take the lead!

Relaxation is often difficult to achieve but here are a few suggestions that might work for you:

  • If you have questions about the imaging, please ask them! Most radiographers who work in this field are passionate about their work and are more than willing to take the time to listen and help (if possible) with your concerns.
  • Breathe deeply and evenly (but please don’t hyperventilate!)
  • Think about softening each of your muscle groups, starting from your head and working downwards – I will often ask my patients to go “soft and floppy like a ragdoll”
  • Employ “mindfulness” techniques that work for you; or in other words “Go to your happy place” – think of a place where you feel calm and in control; the rainforest, beach or simply your own lounge room!

A patient recently told me that when she is faced with a challenging situation, she focusses on a colour – scanning the room to find items that are that colour – and that helps to calm her.

Early detection with mammogram/ultrasound can save your life, so please don’t delay due to scanxiety!

Article originally appeared in Know Your Knockers

If you have a referral for breast imaging; you can request your appointment here.

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