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Mammogram Parties Try To Lighten The Pain Of Breast Exams

Some medical centers are turning this uncomfortable medical test into an excuse to throw a party.

It's no secret why women dread mammograms: the paper gown, the technician grabbing your breasts to fit them onto the cold, metal X-ray plate, and then of course, there is the squishing of the breasts while you hold your breath.

It may be a life-saving screening process but not the most fun you can have in an hour. But lately, some health professionals have come up with some ways to make the process less heinous. It all starts with some wine and cheese.

Breast cancer survivor and Patch editor Ronni Newton of Connecticut went to her first mammogram party two years ago at an imaging center in her town of West Hartford.

The party was the brainchild of two women, one of whom worked for the center and had been procrastinating her own exam because of her busy schedule. If she needed an incentive, surely her neighborhood gang would, too.

So she opened the center for an evening soiree and created a spa atmosphere that her friends wouldn't want to miss.

Unlike the usual lonely waiting room, Newton said the vibe at the party was upbeat and happy, with women getting massages and relaxing in luxury rooms while they waited for their turn. (No one gets their results at these parties; imaging centers usually send films to doctors the next day.) Newton had such a good time that she has since attended two more to lend support to other women.

"It got people who continue to procrastinate," Newton said. "It's mostly about chatting with friends."

In Washington state, the Every Woman Can foundation offers grants for free mammograms for women who don't have the insurance coverage, or whose deductibles are high.

Carol Fox of Inland Imaging plans the "mamm parties," as they are called, for the foundation. She said her imaging center began hosting parties about four years ago after a survey they did revealed the number one reason women were putting off the test was because they didn't have the time. Once again, that was true even for the women who actually worked at the imaging center. Fox's response was, "Time? We can fix that!"

So Fox and her coworkers put together an evening social event that women would want to make time for. The staff takes care of all the party details, from food to invitations to massages, so hosts can just show up with their friends.

The response, she said, has been tremendous. "The women are thrilled to come and bring their friends," she said, adding that the imaging center is now seeing recurrent parties with the same women.

Do you need a mammogram? 

In its online resource, A Primer for Women’s Health: Learn About Your Body in 52 Weeks, the National Institutes of Health recommends: 

  • Women in their 40s and older should have mammograms every one or two years.
  • Women who are younger than 40 and have risk factors for breast cancer should ask their health care provider whether to have mammograms and how often to have them.

How to throw your own mamm party:

  • Contact a local imaging center to find out if they host parties. (You can also ask your doctor for recommendations on a host site.)
  • Be sure to find out the center's policies on insurance.
  • Look for an imaging center that provides party details like food, drinks and invitations.
  • If the center near you doesn't host parties, ask for block scheduling options so you and your friends can go to dinner afterward.
  • In addition to your neighbors or coworkers, include survivors you know who can provide courage and support for women.
  • If you like the experience, consider making it a yearly event.
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