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Our favourite blogger Leslie wrote a very open and candid view of her mammogram experience in ‘My Breast Screening Mammogram’ and here Claire answers some more of your questions about the whole experience, and shares a little about her own mammogram appointment.

Do we all feel the same?

Image showing a woman alone amongst the wavesFor those of you who read Leslie’s post I’m not sure how it made you feel. Myself, I howled with laughter at honesty of it and also at the fact that I too had had very similar feelings on my recent experience at a mammography unit. My experience was from a slightly different perspective; I had gone to the breast clinic as I had found a lump in my breast, so although it wasn’t quite the same as going for a regular mammogram, the thoughts and feelings were similar.

So…even though I was a mammographer myself I found myself completely vulnerable, isolated, and helpless and had a million questions rattling around in my head for the mammographer. I had no idea why, as I knew the answers to all of these questions, but all of a sudden I was a ‘patient’ – I was on ‘the other side’. It surprised me, and made me wonder what you feel like going for breast screening and so I have attempted to answer some of the common questions that you may have when you prepare for a mammogram.

I now know that when you are stood there half naked, very vulnerable and, in my experience, unable to even remember my date of birth, there is no way you can even begin to ask some of these even if you want to! Here’s where the WoMMeN team come in, if my answers don’t give you all the information you need then we’re only too happy to help with the answers!

My breasts are small, I’m almost flat-chested! Can you still do a mammogram?

Image showing a ladybird bug


Yes of course, mammograms can be carried out on all breast sizes and shapes. We are not all the same. Yes there may be a little bit of moving about into the mammogram machine for you to get you in the right position, but all breast sizes can be imaged. Did you know that men have mammograms too? The machines will x-ray any size of breast!

Why am I standing on tiptoe?

Image showing feet standing on tiptoeThe mammographer has to get your breast into the xray machine in the right position so that it can be imaged correctly, and this means lifting the breast up high – higher than everyone’s breasts are naturally!

The mammographers try whenever possible to make sure that you are as comfortable as possible and stood flat on your feet but occasionally this is not possible. Try to stay flat on your feet and let the breast lift up, instead of you, but very occasionally you may have to stand a bit awkwardly, and raise one of your feet a little onto your tiptoes, although if you feel like you’re not balanced then let the mammographer know.

 Why does it have to hurt so much?

Unlike some other organs of our body our breasts are mobile and move about a lot. Most of us can’t run down the road without the help of a bra… I can’t run down the road at all! So when you have a mammogram you need to keep your breasts still to reduce the motion.

Your breast tissue is squashed down which can be uncomfortable, this is called compression. From mine and Leslies experience it made us ‘grit our teeth’ and from my experience it made me do exactly the same. I counted slowly to 5 and it seemed to be over after that.

The mammographers have to squash your breast tissue so that they can get a really clear image of your breast tissue. It’s like taking a picture, it needs to be still and in focus so it is clear and all the details of the tissue inside your breast can be seen. Very importantly it reduces the thickness of your breast tissue so that it gets as small a dose of radiation as possible. The best thing to do when you are preparing for a mammogram is try and stay calm as it really does help the mammographer to position your breast and then this will help you feel more relaxed … which means less discomfort.

Why all the questions?

Image showing lots of question marksIt is really important for the mammographer to have your correct information. You will be asked your date of birth (which I couldn’t remember!) and your name and address. You’ll also be asked about your breast medical history and associated breast problems. It is really important, and I can’t stress this enough, to let the mammographer know if you have a pacemaker or breast implants or any breast augmentation / fillers. This is so that they can adapt the examination specifically for you.

How do I get my results?

Image showing a team of people walking across snowFor breast screening you will get a letter in the post within 2 weeks of your appointment and your GP will also receive a copy of this. Symptomatically you will get instructions on how to receive your results at your clinic appointment.

If all is ‘normal’ then you don’t have to do anything and you will receive another invitation for screening in 3 years time. If you are over 70 though and enjoying retirement then please contact your breast screening centre to make your own appointment.

I have to come back for another mammogram – what does that mean?

Image showing a heart shaped leafThis could be a number of things. Sometimes you need to go back due to a technical problem please do not worry about this, the image taken may be blurred so may need to be taken again.

Sometimes you need to return for some more tests and this will be called an ‘assessment clinic’. It is what it says on the tin, it is a clinic where they will assess your breasts in a bit more detail. This will be because on your initial mammogram images there was something that was not clear which needs further investigation. I understand it is easy to say ‘don’t panic’, it is completely ridiculous to say this! Yet if you try and stay as calm as you can and the staff in the clinic can perform an ultrasound, more mammograms and maybe a biopsy of your breast. The results of any biopsies taken are back in a week and though this will be the longest ever week of your life, the results of ultrasounds and mammograms are usually available on the day itself.

Remember all the staff in the assessment clinics are specially trained and there to help you. Even though you may feel scared and nervous they are there to support you.

Like Claire said, the WoMMeN team are here to answer any questions about mammograms – post a comment here, or go to the forums and ask a question there. We’re happy to help: Mammograms Matter!


Leslie · April 10, 2017 at 5:39 pm

Great blog, Claire. My results came back today as promised and all is clear! Thank goodness.

shaheeda · April 11, 2017 at 8:45 am

Thanks Claire. Brilliant & helpfull blog.

Barbara Barker · April 23, 2017 at 3:23 pm

Yes my Grandaughter is just 18 and found lump in her breast she went doctor and he found another under her arm he sent referring of to breast clinic she hasn’t heard any thing so she rang them they told her she on waiting list but it could be 3 Months befor she get anpointment is that right surely that to long to wait

Geraldine Shires · April 23, 2017 at 6:20 pm

Hi Barbara. Did the doctor give any indication about what he thought the lump might be? It would be very unlikely given your granddaughter’s age that it’s anything serious but I agree that three months is a long time to wait. It might be worth ringing/ visiting the GP again or seeing someone different at the practice to see if they can push things forward a bit.

Heather · May 5, 2018 at 12:11 pm

Hi, I found a lump in my right breast last year and had two mammograms and an ultrasound done that day. The second mammogram was explained later because they had actually seen an area in the left breast which was a concern. What I recall about the examination was the intense and sickly pain in the left breast which makes me wince now to think of it; it seemed to knock me sick in the stomach. All was OK that day and again in January when I went again with the same lump being present in the right breast. No mammogram this time, just ultrasound, but I wanted to ask about that was so deep and unpleasant, do you hear about anything and should I be vigilant?

Julie Stein Hodgins. · May 9, 2018 at 4:41 pm

Hi Heather. Some women do experience pain as you describe…did you ask the Clinical staff on the day about it? Did they share anything with you? I’m guessing that it is the pain on the left when you had gone to them with the right side concerns. Your description of finding a lump means you were seen in a specialist breast clinic rather than a well woman screening clinic. You would have been seen by a breast specialist. Usually if a harmless cyst was present it might cause pain…usually pain can be referred from another area is neck or shoulder. Having had the ultrasound…this would have added to the mammogram image which you had last year. So be breast aware each month…check back with your GP who might suggest medication if it continues but hopefully they will listen to your medical history and descriptions of what you are experiencing. So probably nothing to cause you to worry more and if you do,please visit your GP.

Beverley Scragg · May 18, 2018 at 7:02 am

Hi Heather, thanks for your question. I agree with Julie that sometimes it’s things like cysts that cause pain on that particular side, and also the neck and shoulder pain – as strange as it sounds. Did it hurt more when they compressed your breast for the side-to-side image? Sometimes, I have found that as the compression squeezes the pectoral muscle as well as the breast in that particular view, if a woman has a muscular problem in the shoulder, then the squeezing of a painful muscle brings even more pain.
It might be worthwhile next time just letting the staff know that one side was painful last time, and think about other areas of your body that possibly are contributing to the pain that you describe.
Please remain breast aware in the meantime and go back to your GP if anything changes.

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