Breast self-examination is recommended for women of all ages. Even for women who regularly have a mammogram test (screening twice a year), self-examination is still useful. If you see or feel an anomaly (a nodule, discharge, a depression in the breast, inflammation, a recessed areola, a skin rash, etc.), contact your attending physician or gynaecologist as soon as possible.
Mammotest (or screening mammogram)
A screening mammogram (mammotest) is a mammogram performed as part of population screening. The test is designed for all women between 50 and 69 years of age. A free screening mammogram can be taken every 2 years by all women in the target group. As the photo must be examined by at least two radiologists, the results cannot be given immediately after the test. Your attending physician will be sent your detailed results three weeks after the test. Experience has shown that no abnormalities are detected for about 95% of women and that no other test is required.
In the event of an abnormality, your physician will recommend a second appointment for an ultrasound and biopsy.
A mammogram consists of an x-ray photograph of the breasts. The test takes about10 minutes. To achieve a high-quality x-ray, the breasts must be slightly compressed. This may be unpleasant by it is compulsory. In order to limit these unpleasant sensations, women who are still menstruating are advised to have a mammogram preferably between the fourth and twelfth day after the start of menstruation.
When the clinical examination and/or x-ray detects a breast abnormality, a needle puncture is usually performed. The puncture extracts a little liquid which can be spread on a slide (needle aspiration smear test), or a tissue sample (tru-cut needle biopsy). This collected sample is sent to the anatomical pathologist for microscopic examination. There is no cause for alarm, however, as in 90% of cases this additional test reveals that there is no breast cancer but rather a benign abnormality.
Why should you have a mammogram/mammotest?
A mammogram is used for early detection of abnormalities in the breast. The sooner breast cancer is discovered, the greater are the chances for complete remission and maintenance treatment, thus avoiding breast removal.
Useful advice before you go for a mammogram / mammotest
- Try to wear a blouse as you will have to disrobe up to the waist
- Avoid neck jewellery
- Also avoid deodorant, cream and powder. These products are likely to distort the image.
- Remember to bring your ID card and the reference for your previous mammogram if this was performed at another centre.
- Bring the reference letter / prescription from your physician/ gynaecologist or the invitation from the screening centre .
Full breast imaging test
In addition to these screening tests, all women can also go in for an examination but they require a prescription from their attending physician or from their gynaecologist in order for the full breast imaging test to be performed, as they are not in actual fact a part of the national breast cancer screening programme.
If you notice something suspicious in your breasts, feel pain or are worried, see your attending physician or your gynaecologist as soon as possible. He will prescribe a diagnostic mammogram (full breast imaging test) for you. After the mammogram, if this becomes necessary, additional tests will be performed, such as an ultrasound and/or a puncture and/or a biopsy.
In some cases, an additional radiology test is necessary: NMR (nuclear magnetic resonance) imaging of the breasts.