Two radiographers, Merilyn Cockburn and Brenda Kaye, talk through the different stages of a breast cancer screening.
What is a mammogram?
‘A mammogram consists of four x-rays, two of each breast. It can be very uncomfortable especially if the woman has tender breasts in the first place. It’s best if the woman can relax and if they have been before they know what to expect.
‘The breast is imaged from two different angles as same as you would x-ray any part of the body. With each x-ray the breast is actually compressed between two plastic plates, which is the uncomfortable part. We also want to see the muscle at the back of the breast which involves stretching the arm back slightly across the machine.
‘My job is to put the women at ease and to get the best possible films on that day. We’re looking for changes in the breast tissue, and if the woman has been x-rayed before we will have the previous films to compare with.
‘We see women in the screening programme from ages 50-70 and we see them every three years. In the hospital we see various other groups, including women with a family history, more often.
‘The family history women are generally young and have mothers or a near relative who had breast cancer at a young age. Our genetic department looks after them.
‘What I look for is a technically good film which gives the best possible picture to the radiologist so they can make any diagnoses they need to.’
What is an ultrasound scan?
‘Ultrasound is useful in a different way to mammography.
If someone comes up with a breast lump and the mammogram
shows a density. An ultrasound can tell you what the inside of
that density looks like so whether there is fluid in or if it’s solid.
‘The benefits of having an ultrasound is that it can pick up abnormalities down to a really small size that you wouldn’t pick up by just feeling.
‘It will also be able to tell you if an abnormality is in just one area or multiple areas. For example, it will be able to give you indication if there is anything in the armpit.
‘Screening is important, mammography will pick up 95% of breast cancers and they’ll pick them up at an earlier stage than if you would examined the breast yourself.’
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