At the age of 50 you will be invited for your first NHS Breast Cancer Screening in the UK. My appointment dropped through the letterbox within days of turning 50. Very impressive. Having now had the NHS Mammogram, I thought it may be useful to shed a little light from one woman to another about the experience – what actually happens and what to expect.
Having heard the figures for people not taking up the service, I would hate to think it was fear that was stopping them.
Of course, if you’ve already joined the ‘Club’, you probably won’t need to read on but if you haven’t, then you may find this useful and reassuring.
As with childbirth, we can often find ourselves hearing all sorts of stories about what happens during a Mammogram. Urban Myths. The only advice I was ever given about childbirth was that you don’t remember it. Ha bloody ha and all that!
And the same with the Mammogram. It had been described to me as being painful and I had images of my boobies being beheaded by a trap door flying down. Intent on killing them. This was not so. I am still in possession of both of them.
This isn’t actually my first ‘first’ but it is my first regular mammogram with the NHS. My first was several years ago as part of an overall Health Screening with BUPA. If I’m honest, there is nothing to call between the two. The BUPA screening was personal choice and part of a health plan.
For obvious reasons this is going to be a bit light in terms of pictures.
NHS Breast Screening Mobile Units
With many of the NHS Breast Screening services taking place in Mobile Units, I thought it was worth a little word on this. You may, as we probably all have done, found it a bit odd to have this done in what is effectively a tin box in a car park. A ‘caravan’ for all intents and purposes. Let me tell you on a cold January day, I also had a fleeting vision of how this may work!
The reality is that these units are like a mini ‘Tardis’. On entering, I found a very pleasant reception and waiting area. Carpets, sofas, music, magazines – the full works. Unbelievably, there were also 2 changing rooms, a toilet and the screening area. How is that even possible?!
What Happens During the Breasts Screening Process?
First of all, I have to say it is incredibly slick and efficient.
Remember to wear separates. You only need to remove the top half of your clothing for the screening. This is particularly useful in the winter.
You will be told not to wear deodorant or perfume. It interferes with the machinery. Don’t do what I did though and do a great big 3 mile walk there in the name of January. Remember that part of being 50 means that you sweat like a raging bull!
The Mammogram machine is an incredibly sophisticated piece of kit. The Radiographer, with her expertise will place you in exactly the right position for the screening. This involves a bit of moving around to get it right. It took me a few attempts. I also found that both boobs kept trying to muscle in when it was the other ones turn! I had to exercise a bit of restraint. Not a bad problem to have though. I only got boobs when I was 40.
There is a frontal x-ray where both breasts are screened and then a side view screening of each breast separately. You are in and out in no time.
Is Breast Screening Painful?
Whilst, I cannot speak for everyone, I found it to be pain free. A better description would be uncomfortable. Effectively, your boobs are flattened against the clear plastic plate of the machine in order to get a clear picture. This is a very tight feeling and it is made tighter as it is adjusted. The side screening is more uncomfortable as it is a less natural position to be in. I was thinking at the time ‘ooh I hope it’s tight enough now’. As I said though, it’s over and done with in no time.
I can imagine if your breasts were hormonally tender, then it would be a different story but you can plan around this with your appointment. Also, women with tender breasts may find it more painful.
How Often Will I be Offered NHS Breast Screening?
Women who are aged 50-70 and are registered with a GP are automatically invited for screening every three years. Breast screening is currently offered to women aged 50-70 in England. However, the NHS is in the process of extending the programme as a trial, offering screening to some women aged 47-73
Most importantly, just like the Cervical Smear Test, it is vitally important that we take advantage of these tests that are readily available to us. Early detection wins out over discomfort any day of the week.
And praise for the NHS here too because for all the things that we may feel to be lacking, this is just one of several examples this week where I’ve seen that the services offered by our NHS have been second to none.
I also wonder how the Breast Screening process happens in other parts of the world and whether the procedure is consistent with the UK.
Anyway, I really hope that this has helped to address any pre-conceived concerns that you may have had.
Let’s do this ladies!