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So you’ve been invited for your first mammogram examination

NHS Breast Screening leaflet about mammogram examinationDoes the appointment for your mammogram examination clash with something? Don’t let that put you off attending! There should be either a telephone or email contact to allow you to change the appointment. Some women receive their invites at the wrong time for them, for example during their period, when their breasts are usually tender and more sensitive. If this is the case, contact the screening office and request another suitable date. Your appointment can easily be offered to somebody else.

The letter will include a detailed information booklet all about breast screening. This is an important booklet as it tells you everything you need to weigh up the pros and cons of breast screening. It’s been designed by a team of experts and patients so it is accurate but easy for most people to understand. If you prefer to read this on your phone, kindle or table you can access it here (and there are multiple language versions too).

The appointment date has finally arrived – 7 handy tips

Try not to be anxious but here are some handy tips:

    1. If your breasts are usually fairly tender you might consider taking pain killers an hour or two before your appointment. While there does not seem to be any evidence to support this idea, many women find pain killers helpful.
    2. Don’t apply body lotion or creams on your breasts as this makes them slippery and difficult to compress in the mammogram machine.
    3. If you use talcum powder it’s a good idea not to apply it before your appointment as it can mimic certain types of calcification. Some deodorants have aluminium based complexes in their listed ingredients. These can also mimic calcifications. Therefore avoid using deodorant before your mammogram.
    4. If you have long hair, please bring a bobble or something to tie it back with.
    5. Try not to wear a dress. Since you will have to undress to your waist, a top with a skirt or trousers is much easier.
    6. Try to be on time or even slightly early for your appointment. The screening units run to a very tight schedule. If one person is late it can cause scheduling problems. If you are unavoidably late you may have to wait for a gap in the schedule to be fitted in.
    7. REMEMBER – the breast screening programme in the UK only employs female staff to take the mammograms

When you get there

Attribution: collecting medical history before the mammogram information

When you arrive at the screening unit you will be asked for your name. At some point, either in reception or the x-ray room you will be asked to confirm your name, date of birth and address. At this point, if you have breast implants or a pacemaker it is vital to let the mammographers know as they will need to adapt the way they take the images

Other relevant details about your medical history will be checked and you will be asked about any previous mammograms. All this will help the person reading your images to make sense of what they are seeing.

If there are any other medical problems you think we should know about these can be very useful as we don’t receive any medical history from your GP. For example, if you have shoulder or back problems we can take this into account when we position you.

If you are aware of any rashes or soreness underneath your breasts, let us know so that we can observe this area during the mammogram examination. We’ve got a great blog all about under breast soreness if this is something you are worried about.

Time for the mammogram examination

After we have checked your details you will be asked to undress to your waist in a cubicle or in the mammography room. Some units may provide gowns to wear but in others you can always put a jacket or cardigan on while you are waiting to be called through (so do remember to bring one!). The mammographer will again check your name and date of birth before she begins the mammogram (x-ray).

You will have two x-rays taken on each breast.

Positioning 2 CC view for the mammogram examination

The cranio-caudal (top-to-bottom) view

First there will be two images taken from top to bottom of your breast which are called the cranio-caudal views. Your breast will be placed on the machine and when it is in the correct position the mammographer will bring a perspex plate down to compress your breast. When the compression is tight enough she will go behind a screen and take an x-ray. The compression plate will immediately lift off and the procedure will then be repeated for the other breast.

Medio-lateral for the mammogram examinaiton

The oblique view

After this, two oblique (angled side) views will be taken. This involves leaning over onto the machine and lifting your arm over so that we can get right to the back of the breast and see the pectoral muscle on the image. This ensures we know that we have seen your entire breast, right to the back. The compression plate will again be brought down and the x- ray taken and the procedure then repeated for the other breast.

All finished!

After the mammogram

After all four images have been taken, you are free to get dressed and go. You will receive a letter with your results within the next few weeks.

Unless the unit is very busy, the mammogram examination should take less than half an hour.

Still unclear?

Cancer Research UK have produced this excellent video demonstrating the mammogram procedure. You can also visit our forum where there are practitioner who can answer any of your questions.

Particular needs?

The WoMMeN hub has more information for those of you who have additional needs such as those with implants, disabilities or if English is not your first language.

Call for Action

Have you had a mammogram? Our research has shown women really value hearing about the experiences of others. Are you willing to share your experience to help those who want more information? You can share your experiences through the forum or email Leslie Robinson and she can turn your story into a blog.


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Debra Rothwell · April 12, 2017 at 3:11 pm

I was told today that 50% of ladies don’t turn up for there first mammogram. I find this disgusting and a total waste of time.

Leslie · April 12, 2017 at 3:28 pm

Hi Debra, that’s a very high number of failed appointments. Across the country the average attendance rate is about 70% although there are areas where it probably does drop as low as 50%. We’re trying to do as much as we can to give women enough information to make them see it’s a good idea to go. Any ideas about how we can get this message across to more women?

Evelyn Pringle · May 24, 2017 at 7:11 pm

I think saying 30 minutes for appt is way of the mark and ladies are allocated 7 mins for whole procedure.This may have been reduced since my retirement 3 years ago and the introduction of digital imaging on the mobiles.There are 25-30 + per session. AM and PM

Beverley Scragg · June 7, 2017 at 7:41 am

Hi Evelyn
Yes, good point there, that could be misunderstood. I think when we said half an hour, we were envisaging a worst case scenario, where you look in vain for parking (!), wait a short time for your appointment, and then have your mammogram, and then return for parking.
You’re correct, appointments are still booked every 6-10 minutes, and I’m proud of the fact that more often than not, breast screening appointments are delivered on time and so efficiently. It’s a credit to you and other mammographers that this happens, although, as you point out, digital imaging has helped to make it all much more efficient too.
I hope you’re enjoying your retirement!

Maria · September 13, 2017 at 11:22 am

Just been for my first mammogram. I must say the ladies were very nice , I was in and out in 15 mins . It didn’t hurt and wasn’t even that uncomfortable. Get yourselves to your appointments ladies it could save your life ..

Beverley Scragg · September 22, 2017 at 6:11 pm

Thanks for your comment, Maria, I’m glad to hear that it was a positive experience! We wish you well for the future.

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