Frequently asked questions.
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
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
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
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
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
- 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
- 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
- Nipple discharge
- Lumps, swellings or thickening in the breasts or the
- 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
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
10) I have under breast soreness - can I still have
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