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What to expect when you go for a mammogram

Updated on October 29, 2012

The age that you are when you are first called for a mammogram, and how frequently thereafter, varies from country to country. For example women in the United States are routinely screened every one to two years from 40 years of age onwards.

In the UK every woman who is registered with a GP will receive a first invitation to attend a breast clinic sometime between her 50th and 53rd birthday and then every three years after that until her 70th birthday. This will change by the year 2012 to include women up to the age of 74.

The routine mammogram is a diagnostic test which can detect any changes in the tissue of the breast at an early stage which could be an indication of cancer so, therefore, it's very important that when you receive your invitation that you keep the appointment - it could, literally, save your life!

However, many women who have never had a mammogram feel nervous when they receive their appointment and some even cancel - thinking 'I'll do it later'. You may not know what to expect when you go for a mammogram, so in this article I'd like to tell you of my own experience of having mammograms so that you can see that it really is nothing to worry about.

When I received my first invitation to attend the breast screening unit shortly after my 50th birthday I was a little apprehensive as I had no idea what to expect but I really needn't have worried. I have had two mammograms - both at the breast screening unit in Nottingham - and the experience was the same both times.

When I arrived at the unit the receptionist checked that the details on their records (name, age and address) were correct and then I went through to the waiting room where three or four other women were either waiting to have the test or had already had it and were waiting to be told that the picture was clear enough and the test didn't need to be repeated.

After a short wait I was called through to the examination room and asked to undress to the waist then each breast in turn was placed on the x-ray machine and then was gently but firmly compressed with a clear plate. This is needed to keep the breast still and to get the clearest picture with the lowest amount of radiation - a mammogram is a low dose x-ray anyway.

I found the position that I had to get into a little awkward - my arm was placed so that it didn't get in the way of the picture - but it certainly wasn't painful. I would say that it was about the same degree of discomfort as having your blood pressure taken.

Two pictures were taken of each breast - one where the plates were arranged horizontally and the second with the plates in a horizontal position. I then got dressed and went back to the waiting room where, after a short time, I was told that the pictures were clear and that I could go.

I received the result of the mammogram, which showed that all was well, within 2 weeks and a copy of the result was also sent to the GP's surgery for their records.

A small percentage of women - about 5% - are asked to return to the clinic for a further mammogram. This could be for technical reasons such as the picture not being clear enough or because a potential abnormality was detected. If it turns out to be the last case then further tests will be carried out. Of those women recalled for further tests only around one in six will be found to have cancer.

A visit to the clinic for a mammogram took about 30 minutes in total on both occasions - a small amount of time for peace of mind.

It is, of course, advisable to be 'breast aware'.  Information about breast awareness can be found in the following link.


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    • Suki C profile image

      Barbara C 7 years ago from Andalucia, Spain

      Hi, I'm so sorry to hear that - try not to worry, though I know it's hard. I hope this article has reassured you about the mammogram itself.

      The health services are so good these days, you'll be in the best of hands.

    • profile image

      Worried 7 years ago

      I'm 39 and I'm having my first ever mamagram scheduled for sometime next week. My doctor found (what she called) a mass, size of a quarter... I'm very afraid=(

    • Suki C profile image

      Barbara C 8 years ago from Andalucia, Spain

      That's an interesting point Meg - I just assumed that we would be called automatically as in the UK, I've seen the mobile screening unit in the past parked up outside the health centre - it's something to look into!

    • profile image

      Meg 8 years ago

      Your right Barbara it's nothing to worry about and though sometimes uncomfortable it doesn't hurt!

      Now all I have to do is work out how to arrange to have the test here in Spain. :-)

    • Suki C profile image

      Barbara C 8 years ago from Andalucia, Spain

      hey there Dim - PLEASE don't put it off any longer, it'll be fine :))

    • Dim Flaxenwick profile image

      Dim Flaxenwick 8 years ago from Great Britain

      Thank you for being so explicite. I keep putting off going for this test. I'm such a big baby, but you make it sound ok. thanj you. take care. x

    • Suki C profile image

      Barbara C 8 years ago from Andalucia, Spain

      glad you found it useful & hope all goes well for you :)

    • profile image

      P Walker 8 years ago

      I found this information very helpful - I'm going for my first one next week, thanks

    • Suki C profile image

      Barbara C 8 years ago from Andalucia, Spain

      @ bayareagreatthing - I bet if men had boobs they would have by now!!

    • bayareagreatthing profile image

      bayareagreatthing 8 years ago from Bay Area California

      I really wish they could come up with a different design- and one that doesn't involve ice cold stainless :)

      Great hub Suki!!

    • ethel smith profile image

      Eileen Kersey 8 years ago from Kingston-Upon-Hull

      Having larger boobs I find the experience a little odd. It feels as if your boob has been flattened forever. It does not really hurt though and is over very quickly.

      It is a small price to pay for peace of mind anyway.

      Good advice here Suki