About the Mammogram

Here are some frequently asked questions about the mammogram. There’s more detailed information  elsewhere on the site – check out recent posts on our blog here or ask a question on our forum here

The Procedure

Who performs the mammogram?
Woman_receives_mammogramA female health practitioner who has specialised in breast imaging. They work alone or sometimes in a pair. All practitioners have qualifications to practice mammography.

Will the staff always be female?
In the UK National Breast Screening Service the imaging staff who will perform your mammogram are all female.

Can I be screened if I have breast implants?
Yes you can, please let the screening unit know in advance as extra time is allocated for your appointment. The mammograms will only show the breast tissue surrounding the implant.

Does the mammogram hurt?
Most women find they experience a degree of discomfort, a tight squeeze with no lasting pain, rather than actual pain. However for some women it can be painful.

Does the size of the breast matter?
The mammography practitioners are used to screening women of all sizes and will do their best to minimise any discomfort.

I have a pacemaker, will this affect my mammogram?
Yes, it is safe for you to have a mammogram. It is helpful if you can tell the mammographer where your pacemaker is sited. Your pacemaker may hide the small area of breast tissue behind the pacemaker, preventing it from being seen on the x-ray. The film readers will only be able to report on the breast tissue that they can see on your mammogram.

An ultrasound examination

 

What is a biopsy?
A biopsy is when a small area of breast tissue is removed and examined under a microscope. This is carried out under local anaesthetic.

What is an Ultrasound?
An ultrasound is a scan which shows the tissues within the breast by the use of soundwaves. It is often associated with scans done when you are pregnant.

 

The Appointment

Can I change the appointment?
Yes you can change your appointment. Your invitation letter will contain contact details for you to change your appointment either by phone or email. If the mobile mammography unit is due to move site it may be difficult to accommodate your request.

timeI have missed my appointment. What do I do if I want to arrange another one?
If you get in touch with your screening unit an appointment can be arranged.

Why do some women get invitations for screening as soon as they are 50 while some have to wait until they are 52?
To ensure a reliable service, the service is set up to invite all the eligible women in a GP practise together over a period of time. The NHS Breast Screening Programme is a rolling one, which calls women from doctors’ practices in turn; every woman should receive an invite before their 53rd birthday. If you are concerned, check with your GP as to when their practise is due to be invited and please check that your contact details are up to date with them. If that does not help you, you can contact your local breast screening service via their website, email or telephone for the information. Details from your GP or internet

Can I self- refer for a mammogram?
If you have found something that worries you, don’t wait to be offered screening – see your GP. He or she will decide whether or not you need to be referred for further investigations at a breast clinic.If you are over the age of 70 you can self-refer for a mammogram every three years.

Results

cogHow long will it be before I get my results?
Most screening units will post your results to your home within 2 – 3 weeks after your mammogram

If I get a letter asking me to come for more tests, what does this mean and what sort of tests will I have?..
Being recalled for further tests means that something has been identified on the mammogram which requires further investigation.Further tests may include an ultrasound scan and/or further mammogram views which will enlarge the area under investigation. A woman may undergo a core biopsy which is carried out under either ultrasound or mammographic control and involves taking small samples of breast tissue which are then sent to pathology for analysis.

What happens to the images after I have my mammogram and how long are they kept?..
The NHS Breast Screening programme will keep your mammograms for at least eight years. These are saved securely.

 

 

 

Further screening Queries

Image showing what breast cancer can look like as imagined using lemons

Worldwide Breast Cancer charity image of lemons attributable to http://knowyourlemons.com/signs-of-breast-cancer/

What are the benefits of screening as opposed to waiting until a lump is discovered?
Waiting until a lump is discovered can mean that if the lump proves cancerous it may be much further advanced and more difficult to treat. Screening can discover cancers at a very early stage so that treatment can be carried out quickly. It is important to remember that breast screening cannot prevent cancers. It can only find cancers that are already there. Research estimates that breast screening can reduce deaths by up to 20%. If a cancer is found, it is often very small and hasn’t spread. This means it is usually easier to treat. However, there are some disadvantages of breast screening. There is a chance of being diagnosed and treated for a breast cancer that would not have caused any problems. It can also be uncomfortable and cause worry for lots of women.

I do not want to be screened. What do I do?
We respect your decision not to be screened, although we would encourage all women to attend for breast screening when invited. However if you choose not to take up your invitation please contact the screening office so your appointment can be offered to someone else.

 

 

Image showing wheelchair logo

Arrow & Wheelchair user sign

 

I am disabled – will I have any problems having a mammogram?

If you are disabled it is important to let the screening office know as we don’t receive any medical history from your GP. This means that depending on your disability, we can offer a longer appointment. We can often x-ray people in wheelchairs as long as the chairs have removable arms.

 

What do “false positives” and “false negatives” mean?

Image showing breast screening statistics

UK Breast Screening Statistics. Attribution to https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/breast-screening-helping-women-decide

“Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women and mammography is the only screening method that can detect breast cancer early. Mammography though is not perfect and whilst early detection offers clear advantages, mammography also has potential disadvantages. These include the possibility of “”false positives”” – this is when something is seen on the mammogram but no cancer is found. Conversely a “”false negative”” is where the mammogram may look normal even though breast cancer is present. ”

What does “over-diagnosis” mean?
When a screening test is done, we want to be able to be confident that you get the right result. As techniques and detection have improved, we now pick up early cancer cells. Some cancer cells may remain unchanged for your life time, research is taking place at the moment to identify these particular types. There is a trial on at the moment which will end in approx 2024 called the LORIS trial to check if certain early cancer cells, lower or intermediate grade DCIS, would change enough to spread to other parts of the body.

More information

Stefano Pacifici shared a great link to an article about the mammogram and the screening process in more detail – you can find that here. Don’t be put off by the ‘wall of text’ – there’s some good information here from the European Society of Breast Screening!