One of the WOMMeN mammographers, Geraldine Shires, has reflected on her experience of advising women on a daily basis and has come up with this check list for preparing for your mammogram.
“From the questionnaires which have been received it appears that a lot of women would like some explanation of what goes on when you receive an invitation for breast screening. I have worked in mammography for over 25 years and have also had breast screening myself, so here goes!
First of all, when you receive your invitation, DON’T PANIC! The chances are that even if you have heard some horror stories, it won’t be as bad as you think. The appointment time you receive may seem peculiar, for example 9.12 am. This is because each person has a specific time slot, so if you can keep to this we would appreciate it even though it may seem a bit strange! If you are running a bit late it usually isn’t too much of a problem although if if you’ve missed your time slot and it’s very busy you may have to wait until we can fit you in, or in extreme cases you might have to reschedule.
Before you come for screening there are a few useful things to know:
- The mammographer will ALWAYS be female
- Try not to put body lotions or cream on your breasts. This makes them slippery so it’s more difficult to compress them.
- Talc should be avoided if possible as it can sometimes show up on the images.
- If you have long hair it’s a good idea to bring something to tie it back with.
- Also tops and skirts or trousers are a better option than dresses. You will have to undress to the waist so dresses can be tricky!
- If you tend to have painful breasts, a couple of paracetamol before you come can help. If they are painful just before your period and that’s when your appointment is, you can rearrange it for a better time in your cycle.
Arriving at the unit
Breast screening can take place either on mobile units or in static sites such as clinics or hospitals. When you get there, you will be interviewed by a member of staff who will check your details and also check if you’ve had previous mammograms or any breast problems.
We don’t receive any of your medical history so if you have any issues you think might be useful for us to know it’s good to inform us. These could be things like frozen shoulders, pacemakers, breast implants etc. Things like claustrophobia are useful for us to know about too! There have been several occasions where I have shown someone into a cubicle and when I’ve opened the door on the other side they have been quite distressed but we can’t do anything if we haven’t been told about it!
We do get asked about providing gowns. I think cost and logistics of providing enough gowns for all the screening patients would make it fairly impossible but you can always slip a jacket or cardigan over your shoulders while you’re waiting to be called through. We do try and ensure that you’re not waiting too long in the cubicle however!
The mammogram procedure
After being called through into the x ray room your details will be checked again. Then usually four x rays will be taken, two on each breast. One is taken where the breast is compressed from top to bottom and one where it’s compressed from side to side. The compression will feel tight and generally uncomfortable but most people don’t find it too painful and the discomfort only lasts for a few seconds while the exposure is being taken. If you are aware that you have some soreness or a rash under your breast it’s a good idea to make us aware of it so that we can be extra careful to avoid any splitting in the skin if possible.
Sometimes we have to do extra images. This doesn’t indicate that you have a problem. It’s usually due to movement or a positioning error. You will probably see the mammographer looking at the images on a screen but this is to ensure that nothing needs to be repeated before you leave the premises.
After the examination
After the x rays have been taken you will be free to get dressed and go. Hopefully the whole procedure will have taken less than 30 minutes, unless the unit has been extremely busy. You will be given notification of when to expect your results, and hopefully you won’t have to see us again for another three years!”
Do you think Geraldine has covered all the relevant information? If you are a mammographer, do you have any other commonly asked questions you would like to add? If you are a client/patient/service-user – are there any other things which you are concerned about? Ask, ask, ask on our WOMMeN forum or on the WOMMeN facebook page