People generally get diagnosed with Breast Cancer once they report it after symptoms start appearing. However, sometimes a cancer may start spreading before any discernible external symptoms show up. As such, Breast Cancer screening is a preemptive procedure used to detect cancer at an early stage before a person even has any symptoms. The earlier that the cancer is detected, the easier it is to treat. One of the common methods of Breast Cancer Screening is through a Mammogram.

What is a Mammogram?

A mammogram refers to an X-Ray picture of the breast, and it’s used by Doctors to detect Breast Cancer before the symptoms even appear. Sometimes a Mammogram may detect Breast Cancer up to 3 years before the symptoms show up. The two main types of Mammogram are:
Screening Mammogram: In this, X-Rays of the breast are taken from 2 separate angles and it is done before any symptoms can be seen.
Diagnostic Mammogram: This follows the Screening Mammogram, once suspicious signs can be noticed. This involves taking X-Rays of the breast from various different angles to get a clearer idea of the supposed signs of cancer.

Are there any risks to having a Mammogram?

Many women worry about the radiation they are exposed to under a Mammogram. However, the amount of radiation used in modern Mammography is slight, even less than an X-Ray. However, the only risks you need to be concerned with are the ones due to its imperfections such as:
False Negative: This is when breast cancer is hidden by regular breast tissues, and thus may go undetected.
False Positive: This is when a supposed abnormality is found in the breast and interpreted as a sign of Cancer. This causes a “false alarm”, which causes stress and worry, but also leads to several other tests, imaging, and follow-up visits.
Due to these imperfections, it is often recommended to get a Mammogram in combination with other forms of imaging, such as an MRI or an Ultrasound.

Why is breast screening important?

Screening is designed so that very early signs even slight abnormalities can be detected early. This is because sometimes a breast cancer may develop and go undetected until it is too late and it has already spread considerably. As such, Screening helps detect any signs of cancer while they are still in the early stage and thus can easily be treated.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Breast Screening

• Breast Screening helps detect cancer in the earlier stages, before they can be felt or noticed externally.
• It considerably reduces the number of people who die from Breast Cancer.
• You stand a far stronger chance of survival if Breast Cancer is detected early using a Mammogram.
• If Breast Cancer is detected early using Breast Screening, you are less likely to need a Mastectomy or Chemotherapy later.

• Despite the fact that they are one of the most effective methods of detection out there, they are not 100% accurate, and the breast cancer may still go undetected.
• Even when an abnormality is found, it generally turns out to be a “false alarm”, but in the process women tend to go through several more rounds of tests and a period of anxiety while awaiting the results.

Who is offered Breast Screening?

In England, Breast Screening is currently offered to women between the ages of 50-70, though the National Health Service is in the process of getting it expanded to 47-73. You may even be invited for a Breast Screening before the age of 50 if you are more at-risk than most people either due to personal or familial history.

What happens during the breast screening process?

The screening test is carried out by female staff called Mammographers. Each of your breasts will be compressed between plates gently but firmly so as to ensure a clean X-Ray. Generally two X-Rays are taken, one from above and one from the side. The entire process should take no more than a few minutes. However, you should know that the compression might feel slightly uncomfortable, but it is necessary to produce a clear X-Ray.

How long do the results take?

After the mammogram is taken, it will be thoroughly examined for any signs of abnormalities. The results will be sent to you or your GP within 2 weeks after the screening appointment.

How to understand the breast screening results?

Statistically speaking 96 out of 100 women who go through Breast Screening receive a satisfactory result with no Cancer detected.

However, some are even called for further tests due to an abnormality. 4 out of 100 women are called for further tests, and 1 out of these four have cancer. The further tests may involve breast examinations, a diagnostic mammogram, ultrasound, or even a Biopsy. The results are generally declared within a week.

Those who have been diagnosed with cancer may be diagnosed with either Non-Invasive or Invasive cancer.
Non-Invasive Cancer: 1 in 5 women diagnosed with cancer have Non-Invasive cancer. In this case the cancer cells may be present within the milk ducts, but they are contained and do not spread any further.
Invasive Cancer: This accounts for 4 out of 5 cases of diagnosed Breast Cancer. This is the cancer which cannot be contained and which ‘invades’ the surrounding cells and tissues and may even spread to other parts of the body.