What happens - Breast cancer screening

Breast screening involves having an X-ray (mammogram) at a special clinic or mobile breast screening unit. This is done by a female health practitioner called a mammographer.

You should call your breast screening unit (contact details will be on your invitation letter) before your appointment in certain situations:

  • If you have a physical diasbility or find climbing steps difficult. This is so your screening unit can make any necessary arrangements for you.
  • If you have breast implants. Mammography can be less effective in women who have breast implants because the X-rays can't "see" through the implant to the breast tissue behind it. You'll usually be able to have a mammogram, but let the screening staff know beforehand. Read an NHS leaflet about breast implants and breast screening.
  • If you have had a mammogram recently, or are pregnant or breastfeeding. You may be advised to delay breast screening.

What happens on the day

When you arrive at the breast screening unit, the staff will check your details and ask you about any breast problems you have had. You can also ask any questions you may have.

You'll need to undress to the waist, so it may be easier to wear a skirt or trousers instead of a dress.

First, the mammographer will explain what will happen. She'll then place your breast onto the mammogram machine and lower a plastic plate onto it gently but firmly to flatten it. This helps keep your breast still and ensures a clear X-ray.

The mammographer will usually take 2 X-rays of each breast – one from above and one from the side.

She'll go behind a screen while the X-rays are taken. You have to keep still for several seconds each time.

Most women find the procedure uncomfortable and it can occasionally be painful.

But the compression is necessary to ensure that the mammogram is clear. Any discomfort will be over quickly.

The whole appointment takes less than half an hour and the mammogram takes a few minutes.

Results

After your breasts have been X-rayed, the mammogram will be checked for any abnormalities.

The results of the mammogram will be sent to you and your GP within 2 weeks of your appointment.

Read about understanding your results.

Page last reviewed: 27/03/2018
Next review due: 27/03/2021