A mammogram is an x-ray of your breasts. Find out how you have it and what happens afterwards.
Preparing for a mammogram
There are no special preparations for a mammogram. You can eat and drink normally beforehand.
You have a mammogram as an outpatient. This might be in the x-ray department or breast screening unit or breast clinic.
You remove your clothes from the waist upwards, and put on a hospital gown.
You stand close to the x-ray machine. The radiographer positions one breast at a time between 2 flat metal plates on the machine. The plates press your breast firmly between them for a few moments. You will feel a little pressure and this might be uncomfortable.
You have 2 x-rays of each breast.
Voiceover: A mammogram is an x-ray of the breast. It looks for early changes that could be a sign of cancer.
The radiographer positions one breast at a time between the two small flat plates on the machine.
Radiographer: I am bringing that compression down now.
Voiceover: This compression helps to give a clear picture.
The radiographer takes the x-ray from behind a screen. This is to protect her from the radiation because she is taking x-rays everyday.
Radiographer: Okay, take a step back.
They take two pictures of the breast – one from above and one from the side. Then, they x-ray your other breast.
Radiographer: I need you to bend in the middle, good, lean forward.
Some women find mammograms a bit painful. But most only feel mild discomfort. Either way, it doesn’t last for long.
Radiographer: Okay, there... you are all done.
Voiceover: Your mammogram goes to a specialist radiographer or doctor to look for changes that could indicate a breast cancer.
You should get your results within a few weeks.
After your mammogram
You can get dressed and go home straight after the mammogram. You might have some tenderness in your breasts for up to a few hours.
Two people called film readers, image readers or radiologists look at the mammogram pictures. Around 96 out of 100 women (96%) in the breast screening programme have a normal result.
If the x-ray isn't clear enough or shows any abnormal areas, the clinic staff will call you back for more tests. You might need to have the mamograms taken again.
What a mammogram can show
With early stage breast cancer, there might not be a lump. But your mammogram may show small areas of calcium in the breast tissue.
These areas of calcium are called calcification. But calcification also develops because of non cancerous changes in the breast. The skill and experience of the technicians and doctors helps them to read the different patterns and decide which might be related to cancer and so need further tests.
Some people have a condition called ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) that shows up on the mammogram.
Getting your mammogram results
You usually receive a letter of your results within 2 weeks of having the test. If you don't receive your results within this time, contact the department where you had the mammogram.
A mammogram is a very safe procedure but your nurse will tell you who to contact if you have any problems after your test.
Your doctors will make sure the benefits of having a mammogram outweigh the possible risks.
If screening finds a cancer
If screening shows that you have cancer, it is likely to have been found early. This means you have a good chance of successful treatment.