From Invitation to Treatment


The screening journey consists initially of four elements:
  1. Invitation for screen
  2. Screening test
  3. Normal result
  4. Routine re-call within a defined period

All women registered with a GP will receive their first invitation to have a mammogram some time between their 50th and 53rd birthdays. When a woman receives a letter asked her to attand for a mammogram, she will be asked to go to either her local screening unit or a mobile screening unit, depending on which is most convenient for her.

A visit to a breast screening unit usually takes about 30 minutes. You will be met and welcomed by a receptionist or a female radiographer who will check your personal details (name, age and address). The radiographer will ask you some questions about your general health and whether you have had any previous breast problems.

The radiographer will explain how the mammograms are taken, and can answer any questions that you have about breast screening.

taking a mammogram

Courtesy National Cancer Institute

A mammogram, which is simply a low-dose x-ray of the breast tissue, is able to detect breast cancers at an early stage and long before there would be any symptoms. You will need to undress from the top part of your body, including your bra.

The radiographer will then position you so that each breast is placed in turn on the x-ray machine and gently but firmly compressed (squashed) with a flat, clear, plastic plate. The breast tissue needs to be compressed to keep the breast still and to get the clearest picture with the lowest amount of radiation possible. This can be uncomfortable and for some women it can be slightly painful. However, you need only stay still for less than a minute. Usually each breast will have two mammograms taken from different angles.

The x-rays will be processed by one of four units across the province and examined by the Radiologists. You and your GP should receive the results of your mammogram| in writing within two weeks. If you do not hear anything by this time, you can phone your breast screening unit and ask them to check your results.

95% of women will have a normal result and will not need to be screened again for another three years. In the meantime if you find any changes in your breasts you can go to your GP who can arrange tests for you. The remaining 5%, about 1 in 20 women,are asked to go to a breast assessment clinic for further tests. This may be because a possible problem with the breast tissues was seen on the mammogram.

It is important to remember that this problem may not be a cancer, as there are many breast conditions that can show up on a mammogram. Approximately 1 in 8 women who have an abnormal result will be found to have breast cancer, which means that 7 out of 8 will not have breast cancer. Occasionally, the need for more tests is due to technical reasons; for example, if the mammogram picture was not clear enough. Around 2 women in every 100 (2%) are called back for technical reasons.