Frequently asked questions.

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1) What is a mammogram?

A mammogram is an X-ray of your breasts which is used by the screening programme as a method to detect early stage breast cancer.

It is necessary to compress the breast tissue to reduce radiation dose and keep the breast as still as possible, ensuring the clearest image possible.

2) Why do we have breast screening?

The NHS breast screening programme aims to save lives by detecting breast cancer in its early stages, when it is too small or hidden to be otherwise detected through sight or touch.

All women between the ages of 50 and 70 years old are invited for screening every three years.

1 out of every 8 women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime, most breast cancers are best treated when diagnosed early.

Although mammograms are the best method of early detection, some breast cancers may not be diagnosed at the time of screening, so being breast aware is also very important. More information about checking your breasts can be found here:

It must be noted that there is also a small risk of being over-treated for breast cancer from early breast cancer detection.  This is when a woman is treated for a breast cancer which may have never caused a problem in her lifetime. More information can be found here

3) Does a mammogram hurt?

Mammograms may be uncomfortable, with some women finding it painful, because the breasts must be held firmly under compression to obtain a good diagnostic image.  There is no evidence that compression harms the breast and the Mammographer (the health care professional who will be taking your X-ray) will always be happy to discuss this with you.

If you do experience pain it usually only lasts for as long as the breast is compressed (several seconds) and passes quickly.

4) I'm over 70 years old - what now?

If you are aged 71 or over, you are still at risk of breast cancer. Although you will no longer receive screening invitations after your 71st birthday, it is important that you remain breast aware. If you notice any changes that are unusual for you, please speak to your GP as soon as possible

5) When do I get my results? 

You will receive your results in writing within 2-3 weeks of having your mammogram.  A copy will also be sent to your GP. 

There are three possible results:

  • Normal: Your mammogram shows no evidence of breast cancer and you will be invited back for screening in 3 years' time. In the meantime continue to be breast aware.
  • Technical Repeat: You will be requested to attend an appointment at the Southend Breast Unit for a repeat mammogram for technical reasons only.  Unfortunately, sometimes not all of the breast tissue will have been demonstrated sufficiently, there is blurring of the image or there has been a technical fault.  The repeat mammogram is performed at the Southend Breast Unit so that the image can be checked for technical quality on the superior viewing screens located at the site before you leave.
  • Assessment: Occasionally certain areas of the breast need to be visualised more clearly before a decision can be made as to whether it is a normal result or not.  In these cases you will be asked to attend an appointment at the Southend Breast Unit for further assessment, which may involve further mammograms, ultrasound and a physical examination of your breasts.  Approximately 4 out of 100 women are invited back for further assessment.  3 out of 4 of these women will be found to not have cancer and will continue to have the routine screening appointments every 3 years.  If you are recalled for an assessment, the contact details for our Breast Care nurses (Clinical Nurse Specialist) will be made available for you should you have any queries before your appointment.

6) I do not have a screening appointment but I am worried about my breasts - what do I do?

If you have any concerns about your breasts you should always contact your GP so that they can decide whether you need to be referred for any further tests or examinations, which may include mammograms and ultrasound.

Breast symptoms to look out for include:

  • A change in the size or shape of one or both breasts, or the nipples
  • Nipple discharge
  • Lumps, swellings or thickening in the breasts or the armpits
  • Dimpling or puckering of the breasts
  • Rashes around the nipple
  • Constant pain in part of your breast or armpit

This is applicable to women of all ages, including those under the screening age of 50 years old.

7) Are mammograms safe?

Mammograms involve the use of radiation when imaging your breasts.  Although a very low dose, radiation can very rarely cause cancer.  The general consensus is that this very low risk radiation is far outweighed by the benefits of detecting breast cancer early.

8) I have breast implants - can I still have my mammogram?

Women with breast implants are able to have mammograms. However, the technique for this needs to be slightly adapted, so women with implants are asked to contact our screening office to find a suitable appointment.  Please note the Breast Screening Programme is screening for cancer detection and the report will not comment on the integrity of breast implants.

Implants may obscure parts of your breast tissue and so the mammogram film readers will only be able to comment on the breast tissue they are able to visualise; therefore it is important that you remain breast aware.  The mammographer will discuss this with you at the time of your appointment. More information can be found by clicking here

9) I have a pacemaker - can I still have my mammogram?

Yes, women with pacemakers are still able to have the mammograms performed.  Please tell the Mammographer where your pacemaker is situated before your mammogram is taken. This also applies to Hickman Lines and Loop Recorders. Please call the Screening Office if you have any concerns.

Sometimes, depending on where the pacemaker has been placed, it may obscure a small amount of breast tissue on your mammogram.  The mammogram film readers will only be able to comment on the breast tissue they are able to visualise; therefore it is important that you remain breast aware.  The mammographer will discuss this with you at the time of your appointment. 

10) I have under breast soreness - can I still have my mammogram?

If the skin is very sore and weeping we recommend that you see your GP for treatment of the area before attending your breast screening appointment. You can rearrange your appointment once the skin has healed.

Please see below for more information regarding under breast soreness:

Under Breast Soreness Leaflet