Mammograms for physically disabled women
To make an accurate diagnosis, the mammogram has to be of a high quality. This requires a complex set of skills and a good partnership between the radiographer and woman. These requirements are often enhanced when imaging physically disabled women. Remember you will be expected to:
- Undress your top half
- Sit or stand very close to the x-ray machine
- Allow the radiographer to place your breast on the imaging plate
- Allow the radiographer to squash or compress your breast
- Keep still while the x-ray is taken
For some disabled women, doing these things can be very difficult. Mammograms can be taken while a woman sits in her wheelchair. However, women need enough upper body balance to allow the breast to be put on the plate. Also, some wheelchairs can’t get close to the machine, particularly if the footplates or armrests can’t be removed.
You are encouraged to contact the unit before the appointment to discuss what help or information you might need. These are the sorts of things disabled women ask about:-
- Can a chair be provided so you can sit down to undress?
- Is there a changing room and is this big enough for wheelchair users and /or a carer?
- Can you can hold on to something while the x-ray is being taken?
- Can an ordinary chair to be provided so you can sit down for the mammogram?
- Can a carer can help getting your wheelchair in the right position.
- Can a carer can help the radiographer get your breasts in position (the carer would have to leave the room during the x-ray to avoid unnecessary radiation).
- Is there anything that might help you remain still.
- Is it possible to provide more time for the appointment so you don’t feel rushed
- Is the appointment venue accessible? Many women are screened in mobile units close to their GP surgery which have steps at the entrance. However, the unit can change the appointment to an accessible venue.
- Is there patient transport to take you to the appointment
If you have had a mammogram before, it is still best to contact the unit before the appointment. Things can change and not all units keep a record of what adjustments you need to have a successfully appointment.
For some physically disabled women, barriers make it impossible to get a good enough image of the breast to benefit from screening. The radiographer will make a judgement about this or you might come to that decision during the appointment. In this case, the radiographer might suggest that you are still invited to be screened in 3 years, the normal length of time between breast screening appointments. You can then decide if you feel you would like to try again and let the unit know.
If an x-ray is impossible, you should be given a leaflet and a video about getting to know what your breasts normally look like and changes that might be early signs of cancer. You can find out more about being breast aware from various websites. Unfortunately, these don’t have information targeted at disabled women who can’t do a self examination because they can’t touch / feel / see their breasts. However, these sites might be helpful in thinking about others ways of being breast aware, such as getting a partner to help or discussing it with your GP.