Your first mammogram: what to expect
A mammogram is an extremely routine procedure that is offered to all women aged between 50 and 70 every three years in the UK. You haven’t been singled out for one because your GP is worried that you may have breast cancer – it’s because you’re one of the 2.5 million plus women in the UK who fall in the age range and are due for a mammogram.
You are within your rights to refuse a screening, but never forget that a mammogram is for your benefit – it’s an opportunity to detect any cancers which are less than 15mm in diameter and are therefore too small to detect by hand. And yes – the mammographer will be female.
If you are under the age of 40 and are concerned about any changes to your breasts or have a family history of breast cancer, your GP may refer you for a mammogram at any time. Alternatively, you can arrange a mammogram privately at a breast cancer care clinic.
Make sure you arrive before your appointment time
Naturally, because so many women have been invited for a screening, it’s essential that you don’t arrive late. If you do miss your time slot, and there’s a queue, you may be in for a longer wait than you anticipated – or may have to reschedule.
Avoid lotions, cream or talc on the breast area. Talc can often show up on the screening images, and the former two are harder to compress when they’re slippery. To ensure a quick and easy procedure, long hair should be tied back, and as you’ll be required to strip to the waist, tops are more convenient than dresses.
If you have sensitive breasts, it may be an idea to take a couple of painkillers an hour or so before your appointment. If the appointment falls just before your period and you suffer from pre-menstrual breast sensitivity, you may want to reschedule your screening for later on.
Express your concerns
The people who will conduct the breast screening procedure will know nothing of your medical history, so when you get to the screening site, you will have your details checked out – including how many mammograms you’ve had before (if any), and any problems you’d encountered with your breasts. This is the time to let them know if there’s anything they should be aware of – if you have breast implants, or a pacemaker, for example.
When you’re finally called through, your details will be checked one more time, and then a series of four X-rays will be taken: two on each breast. Your breast will be compressed from top to bottom for one x-ray, then compressed side-to-side for the other. While the compression is tight and uncomfortable, the majority of women who undergo a mammogram for the first time find it isn’t as painful as they expected, and the sensation lasts for a few seconds.
Don’t panic if they have to re-do a screening
Sometimes, the mammographers require an extra image or two. This isn’t because they’ve automatically detected something nasty: it could be that you moved too much, or the first image didn’t take. And especially don’t panic if you catch the mammographer closely examining an image, either: that’s them ensuring that they got the shot they wanted without having to repeat it again.
Waiting for your mammogram results
If you undergoing a mammogram on the NHS, you will receive a letter with your mammogram results within two weeks. If the screening showed no sign of cancer, you’ll be invited for another mammogram in three years’ time, although it is important to keep checking your breasts for changes in the meantime.
If the results are deemed ‘abnormal’, you’ll be invited back for further tests such as an ultrasound or biopsy. Sometimes the mammogram results may be unclear and you may be asked to return for a further mammogram.
At the Thames Breast Clinic, you will receive your mammogram results immediately and we can also provide 3D mammograms.