Mammograms matter – what are they and why are they so important?

A mammogram, or digital mammography, is a type of x-ray used to screen for breast cancer.

If you’re a woman in your 40s or over, it’s really important to know about mammograms. In the UK, almost 58,000 people are diagnosed with breast cancer every year1. Men make up a small proportion of this figure (around 330), but it’s women who are most at risk. 

As part of BMI’s continuing commitment to quality care, our Breast Screening Mammography programme includes the screening of asymptomatic women (without symptoms) aged 40 and over.  A screening every 12-18 months is recommended between 40 and 49 years of age and every 2 years after 50.

As part of the NHS Breast Cancer Screening Programme, women aged 50-70 are invited for a mammogram every 3 years, with some trusts offering screening to those aged 47 -73. After 73, although mammograms are available, they need to be requested individually by the woman.

If you are experiencing any of the symptoms of breast cancer, a mammogram will usually be the first stage of a diagnosis, and your doctor can refer you for the x-ray. It’s also important to know your breasts by checking them regularly for any changes, not just lumps. Changes to look out for and get checked include a different shape, size or feel of the breast(s), dimpling of the skin, discharge from the nipple or a rash2.

What to expect from a mammogram and breast screening

A mammogram appointment usually takes around 30 minutes and involves taking two x-rays of each breast – one from above and the other from the side. You’ll need to remove all clothing from your top half for all four x-rays to be taken. The x-rays from above involve placing each of your breasts, one at a time, onto a clear plate. Another plate is then placed on top, holding your breast firmly between the two so it is completely still for the x-ray. It is also important for the breast tissue to be compressed so that the image is as clear as possible3. Some women find this painful, but most experience only mild discomfort4 or no pain at all.

Mammograms and breast screening are available at our breast screening clinics

Mammogram results

Your x-rays will be ‘read’ by two image readers; people who are trained radiologists or radiographers. Mammograms can help to show developed breast cancers. They can also highlight more subtle changes within the breast tissue, such as calcification (areas of calcium in particular patterns in the tissue5), which can be very early signs of cancer. You should only have to wait 14 days (or less) for your mammogram results. If it shows that you may have breast cancer, your doctor will explain the next steps. Information on breast cancer treatments is available on our Cancer Care hub.

If your breasts are clear, you’ll be offered another mammogram three years from the date of your last by the NHS, but you can choose to have more regular screening by arranging a private appointment.

Things to remember about breasts cancers and mammograms:

  • Download our breast cancer awareness guide for more advice and information.
  • Check your breasts and under your arms regularly for changes and always talk to your GP if you have any concerns, even if you’ve recently had a mammogram.
  • If you’re female and a UK citizen, you will be invited to have a mammogram when you’re 50 by the NHS. Contact your doctor if you haven’t received a letter by your 50th birthday.
  • Mammograms can be uncomfortable, but only for a few minutes.
  • If you’re a man, you can still get breast cancer. It’s less likely, but don’t ignore changes around the chest area and under the arms. If you notice anything, see your doctor immediately.

To find out more call us on 0800 157 7747 or make an online enquiry.

Sources

1https://www.breastcancercare.org.uk/about-us/media/facts-statistics 
2http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/type/breast-cancer/about/breast-cancer-symptoms
3http://www.macmillan.org.uk/information-and-support/diagnosing/how-cancers-are-diagnosed/breast-screening/your-mammogram-appointment-and-what-to-expect.html 
4http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/type/breast-cancer/about/screening/mammograms-in-breast-screening 
5http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/type/breast-cancer/about/screening/mammograms-in-breast-screening 


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