10 questions about breast cancer screening, answered

Thanks to advancements in imaging technology and radiology, the prevention and early detection of cancers — as well as patient outcomes — are improving all the time.

Becoming breast aware, and understanding how you can proactively support your own breast health, is important to staying well.

The KEVII Breast Health Centre regularly performs over 250 mammograms each month. Sue Milner, Breast Service Manager at the Centre, answers our questions to give more insight into managing your breast health, and what you can expect from a breast screening appointment.

1. How often should breast self-examination be done?

Breast self-exams are important because they help you to become ‘breast aware’.

You don’t have to check your breasts all the time, or follow a fixed self-examination routine. What is important, is that you remember to pay attention to your cycle, as your breasts will look and feel different while you are ovulating, compared to when you may be menstruating. This way you can understand your own breasts better, and what feels right, or usual, for you.

Remember too, to be cautious with examining breast tissue when breastfeeding, as things may change once you’ve stopped.

2. What are the early signs of breast cancer?

Lumps are the most common early symptoms of breast cancer but there are many different signs. This can include symptoms like discharge from the nipple, retracted nipples, dimpling of the skin, and others.

Anything unusual for you, or a significant change in breast appearance without reasonable explanation, could be a cause for concern. Do remember though that this doesn’t mean you have cancer.

3. Does a mammogram hurt?

A mammogram may be slightly uncomfortable but it shouldn’t be painful. Your breast care team will explain the process fully to you, so you know what to expect from your first mammogram.

Often, patients will ask us if their breasts will be completely ‘squished’ or ‘flattened’. The breasts are firmly compressed when undertaking a mammogram, not just to see the tissue but to also reduce the radiation exposure. This doesn’t hurt, but if you are particularly sensitive to compression, this can feel a bit uncomfortable.

4. How long does a mammogram take to perform?

This is very much led by the patient and their needs. The actual mammogram is very quick and can even be completed in 5 minutes!

I’ve completed a screening in minutes, and I’ve also completed others that have taken an hour. Every patient is different and requires a different approach.

Ask questions during your mammogram — your breast care nurse will be more than happy to provide you with information!

5. Would you recommend a breast MRI or ultrasound over a mammogram?

No. A mammogram is the gold standard in breast screening. You should always choose a mammogram unless you are under 35 and asymptomatic (which means when you aren’t showing any symptoms).

6. My breasts have felt really sore and tender – should I be worried?

Not always. Breast tenderness may be due to your hormone cycle (cyclical), an ill-fitting bra (non-cyclical) or due to strenuous exercise which has affected muscles around the breast (chest wall pain). These are all factors to consider.

Of course, any persistent pain and/or tenderness should be examined further.

7. Should men self-examine?

Absolutely! There is still a lack of awareness surrounding male breast cancer – in fact, most men who attend screenings do so because their partner has picked up an abnormality. Men should be breast aware in the same way women are.

8. A few women in my family have had breast cancer – should I go for further testing?

This is dependent on the family history, and we recommend patients be given the right guidance before going for an elective mammogram.

For example, this could be considering important factors such as whether the breast cancer is present in your family history in what is called the first tier (your mother or grandmother).

9. Can I go for a mammogram if I have breast implants?

Of course! The breast implant will still remain intact, so you don’t need to worry about your implants being ‘squished’.

10. What happens if I need further testing?

We offer a one-stop clinic. This starts with the mammogram, and if there is any cause for concern an ultrasound will be performed. From here, a biopsy will be taken to be examined.

Our Breast Health Centre is made up of a fantastic team of specialist consultants, breast care nurses and other medical professionals. And we have everything you need at the Centre.

More information

  • If you are concerned about your breast health, you should always consult your GP first (Don’t have a GP?)
  • The KEVII Breast Health Centre has been purposely designed to be a place of comfort, reassurance and expert care for our patients and their families.
  • If you are concerned about your breast health or have been advised to get a mammogram, please do not hesitate to contact the team. If your enquiry is urgent, please contact us here.