Like most medical check ups, a mammogram is hardly something you look forward to.

It’s not a walk in the park and there can be some discomfort – but it’s vital to attend, especially with many women missing their appointments.

Debashis Ghosh, a consultant breast and oncoplastic surgeon at the Royal Free London and UCL Medical School, says: ‘Mammography detects breast cancers at a very early stage before changes can be felt in the breast either by you or by your doctor.’

Each year more than two million women have breast cancer screenings in the UK. This is everything to know about the screening itself.

What should you expect at the appointment?

In total, the appointment should last 30 minutes.

Any necklaces and nipple piercings should be removed, and wearing a top instead of a dress will make it easier to get naked from the waist up.

Once you arrive, you’ll be asked to remove your top and you may be given a hospital gown.

You can ask any questions and, when you’re ready, your breasts will be X-rayed one at a time.

The appointment usually involves two X-rays of each breast, while it is being gently compressed between plastic for a few seconds – you will need to stay still.

Then the machine will be tilted and the process repeated so the side of the breast can be checked, too.

Debashis says: ‘Although it may cause mild discomfort, it can detect breast cancer at an early stage before changes can be felt in the breast by you or your doctor.

‘Do not use deodorant, lotion or powders on the day of your mammogram.

‘Wear comfortable clothing, with a separate top you can easily remove.’

Top tips to reduce discomfort:

Schedule your appointment for the week after your period, which is typically the time when breasts are the least tender.

You can ask for your mammographer to stop at any time too.

Any pain that doesn’t go away after two days should be checked by a GP.

Women with breast implants can continue to have mammograms, too – but it’s important to inform the mammography facility about breast implants when scheduling the appointment. 

He adds: ‘The technician and radiologist must be experienced in X-raying patients with breast implants.

‘Implants can hide some breast tissue, making it more difficult for the radiologist to detect an abnormality on the mammogram.’

Some women with implants experience more discomfort than those without them.

If you are trans or non-binary, you can ask for a private space to change and undress, and if you wear a binder it will need to be removed.

What happens after the appointment?

Debashis says: ‘Following your appointment, you will receive a results letter within a month.

‘If your test is abnormal, you might be called before you get the letter. 

‘Should you have an abnormal test result, you may be eligible for referral to a private consultant or to the NHS via your GP.’

A Million Missed Mammograms

After being diagnosed with breast cancer during a routine mammogram in November, Dawn Butler MP was grateful to find out it was caught early.

However, she learned that a million women missed out on their mammograms due to the pandemic, with an estimated 10,000 currently living with undetected breast cancer.

Determined to change that, Dawn has launched a campaign with to get a million women to book their missed screenings.

If you have been inspired to do so after hearing Dawn’s story, please let her know on her website, emailing us or using #FindTheMillion on social media.

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