Facts about breast screening

How does it feel?

During a mammogram, each breast is firmly pressed for about 10 to 15 seconds in a machine specially designed for this purpose. This is necessary to:

  • obtain the best possible picture of the breast tissue
  • hold the breast firmly to keep it still, reducing movement and blur
  • spread the breast, separating the tissues so that the doctor can see small details on your breast screen
  • press the breast to an even thickness, reducing the amount of radiation used to get the same high-quality images


Screening Mammogram

The image is clearer when the breast is pressed (left), compared to not pressed (right)

Does it hurt?

Most women find breast screening causes only brief discomfort. You may find it more comfortable to have your breast screen just after a period.

What are the limitations?

  • Some Breast cancer will not be found on a screening mammogram
  • Some breast cancers can develop during the time between screening mammograms. For this reason, if you find a breast change that is unusual for you, such as a lump, pain or nipple discharge, we recommend that you see your doctor without delay
  • Sometimes, we may find changes on your mammogram that need further tests. This may not be cancer but further investigation is needed
  • It is not possible to be sure which breast cancers found by screening will develop into a life-threatening cancer over the course of your lifetime. Therefore, some women may receive treatment that might not have been necessary in an effort to reduce their risk of a life-threatening cancer in the future
  • Having a screening mammogram means your breasts are exposed to a small amount of radiation. Current research in South Australia suggests that the benefits of having regular screening mammograms outweigh any possible risks from radiation
  • Breast screening does not prevent breast cancer. It finds breast cancer in its early stages when treatment is most effective

It is saving women’s lives?

Breast cancer is the second most common cause of cancer-related deaths in women in Australia and there is evidence of greater reductions in the risk of breast cancer deaths from regular breast screening. For example:

  • women who had at least three rounds of breast screening at less than 30 months apart in the period leading up to their diagnosis of breast cancer reduced their risk of breast cancer death by up to 53%
  • women aged 50 and over who had undergone breast screening were significantly less likely to die from breast cancer than women not screened
  • breast cancer-specific mortality has fallen by over 25% for all ages (females) in South Australia


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