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Early detection of breast cancer

A mammogram is a diagnostic X-Ray test used for the early detection of breast cancer. It can detect cancers that are too small to see or feel, or are in an early stage and thus not causing any symptoms. The earlier the cancer is caught, the less likely it is that chemotherapy or a mastectomy will be needed.

Breast screening is advised from a woman’s 50th birthday onwards, but breast changes or lumps can occur at any age. If you notice anything unusual, it is important to speak to a doctor, who can help with diagnosis and ease any concerns.

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What Is Breast Cancer

Breast cancer develops in the cells of the breast and is far more common in women than in men. It includes various types with distinct characteristics. Ductal Carcinoma In Situ (DCIS) is a non-invasive form where abnormal cells are confined to the lining of a breast duct. Invasive Ductal Carcinoma (IDC), the most common type, involves cancer cells spreading beyond the ducts into other breast tissue.

Invasive Lobular Carcinoma (ILC) starts in the milk-producing glands (lobules) and extends to nearby tissues. Triple-Negative Breast Cancer lacks oestrogen, progesterone, and HER2 receptors, making it harder to treat. Conversely, HER2-Positive Breast Cancer is characterised by high levels of the HER2 protein, which promotes cancer growth.


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What To Expect

Here is what to expect during a mammogram:

  • There is no special preparation required for a mammogram.
  • The procedure requires you to undress from the waist up.
  • A doctor or health professional will position your breasts, one at a time, between two clear plates attached to the X-Ray machine.
  • These plates gently press the breast tissue to allow for a clearer picture.
  • Two images are taken of each breast at different angles.
  • The pressure of the plates can be uncomfortable, and in some cases, the discomfort may last for a few hours after the X-Ray.
  • If your mammogram shows any abnormal areas of breast tissue, you may be asked to come back for further testing.
  • The scan can show small collections of calcium in the breast tissue, known as calcification, which can occur due to non-cancerous changes.
  • Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) may also show up on a mammogram.

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The Procedure

preparing for appointment


Preparing for a mammogram involves several important steps to ensure a smooth and effective procedure. Begin by scheduling your appointment at a time that best suits your schedule, ideally avoiding the week before your period when breasts can be more tender. Gather necessary information such as your medical history, including any family history of breast cancer, and bring along any previous mammogram records for comparison. On the day of the exam, avoid using deodorants, antiperspirants, lotions, or perfumes on your breasts or underarms, as these can interfere with the imaging. Wear a comfortable two-piece outfit that is easy to remove, as you will need to undress from the waist up for the mammogram. Communicate any breast pain or tenderness to the technologist before the procedure, and inform them of any breast implants or medical devices you have.

during the appointment


The technologist will position you carefully in front of the mammography machine, adjusting the height and placement of the platform to ensure the best possible images. Your breast will then be placed on a small flat plate attached to the machine, and another plate will gradually press down to flatten the breast tissue. This compression is necessary to spread out the breast tissue, which helps obtain clear X-Ray images with minimal radiation exposure. You might feel some pressure or discomfort during this compression, which lasts for a few seconds as images are taken from different angles. It is important to remain still and follow the technologist’s instructions to ensure the images are clear and accurate. The process is repeated for each breast.

post appointment


After your mammogram, you can typically resume your normal activities immediately. You may experience minor discomfort or sensitivity in your breasts due to the compression during the procedure, but this usually fades quickly for most women. The mammogram images will be reviewed by a radiologist, who will analyse them for any signs of abnormalities. Typically, you will receive your results within a few days to a week. If any further evaluation, such as additional imaging or tests, is recommended based on the results, you will be promptly contacted. It is important to follow up on any recommendations from your healthcare provider to ensure timely and appropriate care for your breast health.

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What are the benefits of mammograms vs other diagnostic methods?
Mammograms are able to detect cancers that are in very early stages, and too small to see or feel. Early detection means a better chance of successful treatment.
Is a mammogram painful?
Mammograms are not painful. The procedure may cause some discomfort as the breast is pressed between two X-ray plates during the imaging.
At what age should I start having regular breast checks?
Annual mammograms are advised for women aged 50 and over, but your doctor may advise you differently depending on other factors such as family history.

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