Mammograms are x-ray images of the breast. They are used to detect early signs of breast cancer before they become physically noticeable. Mammograms are offered to all women over the age of 50 up to their 71st birthday and they are invited for a screening every three years.
Although this is the standard age group for people who attend mammogram appointments, if you have any concerns or experience breast cancer symptoms, a mammogram can be made accessible to you through a GP or hospital appointment.
Mammograms are beneficial in saving lives, but it can be a daunting thought for many women. It’s hard to know what to expect of a breast cancer screening appointment and the process itself. To answer some of these questions, we spoke to Adele Fairburn, a Senior Specialist Radiographer in Mammography who sees women for screening appointments every day. She gave us more information on what you can expect from an appointment, what the process is, and key information on the importance of breast cancer screening. We’re hoping to spread awareness and information on mammograms as part of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
My name is Adele, and I am a Senior Specialist Radiographer in Mammography. This means I am a Radiographer who is specially trained to take X-ray images of breasts.
A mammogram is an X-ray of the breast performed to help look for any changes within the breast and to detect the early signs of breast cancer.
There are two processes, the first is Breast Screening:
You will be invited to attend a mammogram at a screening site. Sometimes this is in a hospital or a mobile screening van. You will be asked a series of questions by the Mammographer and will be taken into a private room and asked to undress from the waist up. Try not to be too embarrassed by this as we see hundreds of ladies a week!
You will have two pictures of each breast taken. You will be carefully positioned into the machine and some compression will be gently applied to your breast.
The compression needs to be tight enough to do 3 very important things;
The second process is Symptomatic Imaging:
This occurs if a lump or any changes to your breasts appear, you must go and see your GP. Sometimes you will be referred to the hospital where a mammogram will be taken or other tests will be done. The tests performed will depend on your age. Normally you won’t have a mammogram if you are under 40 years old. This is because under the age of 40 the breast tissue is often too dense, meaning the X-rays can’t make it through the breast tissue so we don’t get a clear enough picture to be able to make a diagnosis from. If you are under 40 you will normally have a breast ultrasound scan or sometimes a breast MRI scan.
You will normally get the results of your screening a week or two later. The Mammographer’s job is to get a good diagnostic picture to help find the very early stages of breast cancer, but we also have to look after you and we try to make the examination as comfortable and a quick as possible.
When your mammogram is reported back at the hospital, if we see anything on the on picture we will refer you to an assessment clinic. Just because this has happened doesn’t automatically mean anything is seriously wrong. Most things we spot on mammograms are normal, but we may need to take some extra pictures or do some further tests just to be sure!
If you have any questions or concerns or you’re scared, we’re there to help to get you through the examination. Every lady is nervous but there’s nothing we’ve not seen or experienced before and we’re actually really caring nice people! Most women say that the mammogram was nowhere near as bad as they thought it would be and they didn’t know what they were so worried about.
You must never be so ashamed or embarrassed of your breasts or your body not to get help if you notice any changes to your breasts. Remember, this is what we do all day and our job is to keep you healthy and we could help to save your life.
If you get invited for your screening mammogram then please go! Our job is to spot breast cancers before they are big enough for you to be able to feel or see. The earlier we catch the breast cancer and the smaller it is, the better the chances are of you beating the cancer and surviving.
I hope this has given you an insight into what a mammogram involves and how important it is that you attend for your screening mammogram, as it could save your life.