All women in the UK between the ages of 50-70 are invited to attend regular breast screening appointments. Screening helps identify if your breasts are healthy or showing signs of cancer. If you are invited, it’s important that you make time to attend, even if you’re feeling fit and healthy and don’t think there is anything wrong.
Breast cancer can happen to any woman and it doesn’t wait, so neither should you.
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Maximising the time we stay in good health is important for us, friends and family, yet busy lives often mean we don’t prioritise looking after our own health.
A breast screening appointment doesn’t take much time and yet gives peace of mind that lasts much longer. Early detection of breast cancer saves lives. It means treatment can be more successful and there’s a good chance of recovery.
However, cancer can also be a taboo subject, which can put women off screening. They may feel isolated and reluctant to seek help, but it’s important to remember that timely screening and early detection increases the chances of survival and there are many resources, organisations and charities available for support.
Breast cancer doesn’t just develop in women whose mothers, sisters or grandmothers had the disease. You can have no family history and still be diagnosed, in fact, only about 5-10% of breast cancers are believed to be hereditary1. The reality is that any woman can get breast cancer, so ensure you take time to get checked when your invitation for breast screening arrives.
There are around 11,500 breast cancer deaths in the UK every
year, that's 32 every day2.
420 women lose their lives to breast cancer in Manchester every year3.
There are around 55,200 new breast cancer cases in the UK every year, that's around 150 every day2, but it is estimated for every 200 women screened, one woman has their life saved and will not die from breast cancer4.
More than 80% of women live longer than five years after diagnosis5. You may also be less likely to need a mastectomy (breast removal) or chemotherapy if cancer is discovered in the early stages.
You may be feeling a little apprehensive about your appointment and that’s completely natural. Rest assured, breast screening is done quickly and respectfully by female-only healthcare professionals.
The whole appointment usually takes less than half an hour and the mammogram itself takes only a few minutes.
The breast screening itself usually takes about five minutes, with the appointment taking about 30 minutes. When you arrive, you’ll be asked for your name and date of birth to check your identity before being taken to a private cubicle. You will then be given a gown and asked to remove your clothing from the waist up before entering the x-ray room.
If English is not your first language, the NHS provides a translation and interpretation service. If you would feel more comfortable with an interpreter, you can ask for a referral so you will be supported during your appointment.
The mammographer will position you correctly one breast at a time between two plates on the machine. These plates apply pressure gently, but firmly. Some women may feel some discomfort due to the pressure applied, but this part of the procedure should only last a few seconds. Stay as still as possible, as this will help your mammographer get a clear image; they may give you some breathing exercises to help prevent you from moving.
Routinely, four images will be taken in total, two per breast. However, if you have larger breasts or breast implants, your mammographer may take additional images.
You will not receive your result on the day, but you should expect to hear back within two weeks of your appointment. Ask your mammographer how quickly you should expect to hear from them.
Healthcare providers are taking all the necessary precautions to make sure breast screening is as safe as possible, so don’t let this be a concern. With some simple, sensible steps you can help play your part too.
Here are some links to organisations and charities if you would like to find out more about breast cancer and screening programmes.
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References: 1. Breastcancer.org, Breast Cancer Myths vs Facts, Online. Available at: https://www.breastcancer.org/symptoms/understand_bc/myths-facts [Accessed September 2021] 2. The University of Manchester. Manchester: Cancer deaths higher in Greater Manchester compared to rest of UK, [cited 5th February 2014]. Available at: https://www.manchester.ac.uk/discover/news/cancer-deaths-higher-in-greater-manchester-compared-to-rest-of-uk/ [Accessed September 2021] 3. Cancer Research UK, Breast Cancer statistics, Online. Available at: https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/health-professional/cancer-statistics/statistics-by-cancer-type/breast-cancer#heading-Two [Accessed September 2021] 4. NHS, Benefits and risks, Breast cancer screening, 2017, Online. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/breast-cancer-screening/why-its-offered/ [Accessed August 2021]
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