Mammograms (Breast X-rays)
Click on the links below to find out important information about mammography.
- What is a mammogram?
- Will the mammogram hurt?
- Do I have to take my clothes off?
- Why should I have regular mammograms?
- What are my chances of getting breast cancer?
- How accurate are mammograms?
- Are mammograms safe?
- Do I need to have regular mammograms even if I am well and have no lumps in my breasts?
- What are the limitations of breast screening?
A mammogram is an x-ray of the breasts. They can detect breast cancer early which means a very good chance of successful treatment. They are safe because they only use very small amounts of radiation.
When you have a mammogram, the medical radiation technologist (radiographer) who takes the X-rays places each breast in turn between two plates on the X-ray machine.
The plates hold the breast firmly for a few seconds while the pictures are taken. Many women find this uncomfortable and a few find it painful. It does not harm the breasts.
During your mammogram, your breast will be held for a few seconds between two plates. Many women find this uncomfortable and a few find it painful. It does not last long and does not harm the breast.
You will need to undress from the waist up so it is a good idea to wear a skirt or trousers and a top. You will be offered a robe to wear during the appointment.
Our MRTs are women of all ages and will respect your modesty as much as possible. They are very professional and will do their best to ensure you feel comfortable and at ease. They take mammograms for women of a wide range of ages, ethnicities and sizes.
- can show changes in the breast before anything can be seen or felt. In most cases, the changes will not be cancer;
- can detect breast cancer early which means a very good chance of successful treatment;
- are particularly effective in detecting breast cancer for women 50 years and over who have mammograms every two years;
- can detect about 75 per cent of unsuspected cancers in women under 50 and 85 per cent in women over 50;
- cannot prevent you from getting breast cancer and cannot always prevent death from breast cancer;
- are safe because only very small amounts of radiation are used.
The risk of breast cancer increases as you get older. Of those women who get breast cancer, three-quarters are 50 years and over.
Most women who get breast cancer have no close relative with the disease. Even among women with a family history of breast cancer, only a very small number will be at high risk of getting breast cancer.
The chance of a New Zealand woman getting and dying from breast cancer each year is shown in the table below. Because there are effective treatments available for breast cancer, most women who get breast cancer do not die from it.
Like other screening tests, mammograms are not perfect. A mammogram may suggest that something is not right when, in fact, all is well. This is called a false-positive result.
You may notice symptoms of breast cancer between your two-yearly screening tests. This is called an interval cancer and can happen because:
- some cancers do not show up on a mammogram. This is more likely in women before menopause who often have dense breast tissue. The density usually reduces as women age and go through menopause;
- the radiologists (x-ray doctors) looking at the mammogram may miss cancer. This will happen sometimes, no matter how experienced the radiologists are;
- sometimes fast-growing cancer will develop.
Despite this, mammograms are the only proven way of finding breast cancers early enough to reduce your risk of dying of breast cancer.
Only a very small amount of radiation is used in mammography, so the radiation risk is very low. BreastScreen Aotearoa monitors the equipment used to take mammograms to ensure radiation is kept to a minimum.
Yes. A mammogram can show changes and abnormalities (something unusual) in your breasts before anything can be seen or felt. It is the best available test to detect small cancers at an early stage when there is a very good chance of successful treatment.
A mammogram is not a perfect test. Cancers will be missed in some women. On the other hand, the vast majority of women who take part in breast screening do not have breast cancer. These women do not gain a benefit from breast screening, but they can be harmed. There are limitations and risks to women in mammography screening.