I was quite surprised when an invitation to attend breast screening arrived on my door step. I wasn’t expecting one until I was fifty and that’s three years away. Anyway, it turns out that I was being asked to be part of a trial, to see if lowering the age for screening was a worthwhile thing to do and whether the benefits outweighed the risks. I gave it a bit of thought because I’m aware (especially as a former GP) that screening is just that – screening. There’s the risk of finding things that need investigating which can create anxiety and turn out not to be anything to worry about. There’s also the benefit of finding things that are sinister and wouldn’t have shown up any other way. So, with the ethos of helping with the research I decided to get my breasts out.
The glamour of a pop-up breast screening truck in a supermarket carpark made me chuckle. Living rurally I had half an hours drive to get there and on the way I realised I was feeling a bit nervous. I’ve sent lots of women to have mammograms but I’ve never had one and I only vaguely recall seeing one as a medical student, many years ago. I guess like most people, all I knew was that they squash your breasts between metal x-ray plates and it can hurt. Not the most reassuring picture to have conjured up!
Well, top marks to the Pennine Breast Screening Service visiting Settle, I really cannot fault them. I was straight into my appointment. Everyone introduced themselves. I was given reassurance and clear instructions. After checking my details and health info I had to go into a little cubicle and take off my bra and put my t-shirt back on, so I wasn’t feeling exposed. In the x-ray room (it’s a low dose x-ray for mammograms) there were two female mammographers. I had to take off my shirt, put it on a chair and stand up close to the x-ray machine. I cracked a joke about there not being much to squash – a common fear of small breasted women attending for a mammogram, I imagine. With great professionalism, the mammographer positioned me and my breasts (one at a time) so they were compressed between a flat hard surface and a see-through plastic plate. There’s something much kinder about clear plastic than metal. (I don’t know why I thought it would be metal). I was always happier doing vaginal examinations and smears with a plastic speculum than a metal one, those have a habit of rattling and reminding me of some kind of medieval instrument. Anyway, I digress. Images were taken of each breast, one at a time, straight on and then each one from the side, again I was given clear instruction about how to stand, where to put my arm and the mammographer quickly and gently got the breast tissue into the right place.
After the final x-ray I put my T-shirt immediately back on and was then sent into the cubicle to get my bra on. Nothing worse than trying to untwist your bra and get the back done up with someone watching you! Job done in about 15 minutes.
Did it hurt? Honest answer – no. The plastic plate squeezes down quite tightly but not for long and after a couple of gentle deep breaths it was over. Having breast fed, the discomfort reminded me of that sensation when your milk suddenly lets down or when you feel the pulling and pressure of a breast pump, through your breast and into your nipple. A bit unpleasant but not painful. Totally bearable.
So, two weeks for the result. Let’s see. You need to make your own decision about screening but the leaflet that comes with your invitation will be helpful and you can read more here too. I hope my experience is helpful. It was really fine, much better than I expected.
Thanks to the Pennine Breast Screening team for their professionalism. Thanks also for their encouragement to write about my experience as they said so many women are really nervous, worry about how much it might hurt and many don’t make it as far as their appointment.
Featured Image: Gratisography. Other: drjulietmcgrattan.com