If you’re going for your first-ever mammogram, it’s normal to feel a bit apprehensive about it. Many women worry about the potential pain, or associate the scan with a breast cancer diagnosis – which can be enough for some to skip the screening altogether.
In England, breast screening is offered to all women aged 50 to 70. Mammograms tend to be less effective for women under 40, as younger women’s breast tissue can be more dense, which makes it harder to spot changes in the x-ray images. However, if you have a strong family history of breast or ovarian cancer, or have been found to have an increased risk of cancer, you may be eligible for screening before the age of 50.
Your mammogram will be held at a breast screening clinic, in either a hospital or a mobile unit. The appointment itself will only take around half an hour and it’ll be over before you know it! It’s a good idea to wear loose, comfortable clothing, as you will need to undress to the waist. It’s also worth skipping deodorant on the day of your scan as images are also taken under your armpits and having aluminium around that area can affect the results.
Your mammogram will be taken by a female practitioner who will place your breasts one at a time on an x-ray machine and compress them each for a few seconds. Pictures of the breasts will be taken from different angles, including the part around the underarms. Although it may be uncomfortable, it will only last a few seconds and isn’t harmful.
You should expect to receive your results no later than two weeks after your mammogram. Only around 1 in 25 women will be called back for further assessment, but don’t panic if you require further testing – it doesn’t necessarily mean that you are facing a cancer diagnosis.
It may not be the most pleasant procedure, but going for a mammogram will provide piece of mind and can also catch breast cancer at an earlier stage, making it more treatable. If you’re still a good few years off having your first mammogram, you should still familiarise yourself with your breasts so that you can spot any potential changes. Make sure you know how to examine your breasts correctly and know the signs and symptoms to look out for.
You can find out more information on this by reading our helpful guide on being breast aware.