Mammography for breast cancer

Mammography

A mammogram is an x-ray of the breast.

Women aged 47-73 are invited for a mammogram. Not all cancers are found during breast screening. 

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How the test is performed

Screening is carried out by female staff, who take mammograms to detect abnormalities. The breasts are x-rayed one at a time.

The breast is placed on the x-ray machine and gently compressed with a clear plate.

Two x-rays are taken of each breast at different angles.

Most women find the compression uncomfortable and occasionally it may be painful.

The result of the mammogram is sent to you and your GP.

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What is being looked for?

The aim of a mammogram is to detect breast cancer at an early stage, when any changes in the breast would be too small to feel and when there is a good chance of successful treatment and full recovery. Well developed breast cancers nearely always show up clearly on mammograms. 

With early stage cancer, there may be no lump, but the mammogram may show small areas of calcium in particular patterns within the breast tissue. These areas of calcium are called calcification. But calcification can also occur due to non cancerous changes in the breast.

Very early non invasive cancers - DCIS

The mammogram may show DCIS. This stands for ductal carcinoma in situ. It means there are changes in the cells lining the breast ducts. The breast cancer cells are only inside the ducts of the breasts. In some women DCIS may spread into the surrounding breast tissue after some years, to become an invasive ductal breast cancer.

There is little risk of DCIS coming back once it has been removed with surgery.

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