What is a Screening Mammogram?
A mammogram is an x-ray picture of the breast. It’s completed in privacy by a specially-trained technologist, and typically takes about 20 minutes. Breast screening is used to find breast cancer before a person or their health care provider notice anything out of the ordinary—early detection is key. Being screened regularly allows the radiologist to look for changes over time.
Who can book a mammogram?
You do not need a referral from a health care provider to book a screening mammogram. As long as you:
• Are a Canadian citizen
• Are age 40 or older
• Do not have breast implants
• Do not have known breast cancer
• Do not have new breast symptoms
How do I book one?
You can make the appointment yourself by calling the Nova Scotia Breast Screening Program (NSBSP), toll-free at 1800-565-0548. You do not need referral from a health care provider to book a screening mammogram.
Where do I go?
Screening mammograms can be done at one of our 11 fixed sites or 30 mobile stops across the province.
On the day of your screening mammogram:
- Bring your health card.
- Do not use deodorant, powder, creams or lotions on the day of your appointment. These products may show up on the images and make it harder to read your mammogram.
- Plan to arrive about 15 minutes early for registration.
- Some find it helpful to avoid caffeine a few days before a mammogram.
- You may want to take an over-the counter pain medication one hour before your mammogram appointment if you find mammograms uncomfortable.
How a mammogram is performed?
Please wear a two-piece outfit as you’ll be asked to remove your clothes from the waist up. If you wear a shirt or sweater that opens in the front you may be able to leave this over your shoulders. The mammography technologist will place your breast on a special x-ray machine, and a plastic plate will hold your breast in place for a few seconds. You'll feel some pressure on your breast during the x-ray, it’s necessary to spread the breast tissue and limit movement which may blur the picture. This may be uncomfortable but usually lasts less than 10 seconds. You’ll be asked to hold your breath while the picture is being taken. Usually four pictures are taken, two of each breast. Additional pictures may be taken to see the breast tissue properly.
After your mammogram
Immediately following your exam, you’ll need to wait while the technologist confirms the quality of the images are good and don’t need to be redone. The technologist will not—and cannot—tell you the results of your mammogram. Screening mammogram results are mailed to both you and your primary health care provider if you have one, but diagnostic imaging results are sent only to your primary care provider.
If your screening mammogram is reported as normal then a letter will be mailed to yourself and your primary care provider. It will include a recommendation for when to have your next screening mammogram. Once you receive this normal screening letter you can call the central Booking office to book your next mammogram appointment. A reminder letter is mailed to you 3 months prior to your next due date as a reminder if you have not booked your appointment.
If your screening mammogram is reported as abnormal you will receive letter in the mail which will contain the appointment information for the recommended work-up imaging. A letter will also be faxed to your primary care provider to notify them of the screening results.
It's not uncommon to be recalled for further imaging—about 5-10% of people screened end up being recommended for further imaging. Additional imaging/tests may include:
- Diagnostic mammogram: this includes additional x-ray images of the area of concern so the radiologist can look at it more closely.
- Ultrasound: uses sound waves to look at area of concern. It can show whether a lump is fluid filled, such as a cyst, or solid.
- Core Biopsy: takes tissue samples from area of concern.
Even though more testing is sometimes needed after a screening mammogram, it does not mean you have breast cancer. About 90-95 % of recalled screening mammograms turn out to be normal after further imaging is performed.