Health issues

The truth about breast screening – it’s not as uncomfortable as you think!

Due for your next breast screen or never had one? Make a day of it by teaming up with a friend to combine breast screening with lunch or coffee.

Let’s face it, no woman relishes the prospect of having her breasts squashed, but the fact is, a breast screen is a vital health check that can save your life, and that’s so much more important than a little bit of discomfort or embarrassment. And, fortunately, a breast screen is far less painful and embarrassing than many women fear.

“Some people think it’s going to hurt,” Helen Archibald, the clinical director of the BreastScreen Queensland Mackay Service, says. “But when we talk to women who come to BreastScreen Queensland, many women find that the discomfort is much less than they expected”

If you’re aged 50 to 74 it is recommended you get your breasts screened every two years at one of 260 BreastScreen Queensland locations. There are a range of appointment times available, including early mornings, late afternoons and Saturdays at some locations. The screenings at BreastScreen Queensland are free and are done by a female health professional, who’ll explain exactly what’s going to happen to put you at ease and make you feel as comfortable as possible.

“A woman will be asked to complete some personal information and make sure it’s up to date if they’re back with us again for their rescreen,” Dr Archibald explains. “They will be asked to sign a consent form for screening and then their health professional will introduce themselves, take them through to the screening room, perform the mammogram, making sure the images are technically fine and then the appointment is finished. It’s very quick.”

During your screening, you’ll be required to remove your clothing from the waist up, so it’s advisable to wear separates rather than a dress and don’t wear talcum powder or deodorant as it may affect your breast screen.

The health professional will position each breast between two plates on the mammography machine to get two different views on each side. The machine presses down firmly on your breast; pressing firmly spreads your breast tissue out thinner and helps you stay still, ensuring the images are as accurate as possible.

It’s usually this part of the procedure that women worry will hurt but the machine presses your breast for no longer than 10 seconds for each image and the health professional will work with you to ensure any discomfort is minimised and will support you throughout the screening process.  This part of the screening only takes a few minutes and the whole appointment is over within 30 minutes. While some women do find the process uncomfortable, the discomfort is momentary and you are in control at all times.

“There is lots of information about the program on our website and our staff are also available to answer any questions you may have over the phone before your appointment.” Jeannette Young, chief health officer at the Queensland Department of Health, says. “Also, when you come for your mammogram, our specially trained staff will go through the procedure to try and make it as comfortable as possible. You can ask questions at any time.”

There’s also a fun way you can ease your nerves of attending a screening – book your appointment at the same time as a friend.

Not only will your friend be able to offer you support, but you’ll be more likely to keep your appointment because you’ve made a commitment to spend time with someone you care about. Because it only takes half an hour, you can even make a fun event of it and treat yourself with lunch or a coffee before or after your screening.

Many women feel much more at ease after their first screening and choose to add breast screening to their schedule of regular health checks, just as they would with their doctor or dentist.

It’s recommended that women aged 50-74 have a breast screen every two years, because age (and, of course, being a woman) are key risk factors for developing breast cancer.

Read more: Debunking breast cancer myths: Underwire bras aren’t a worry, getting older is

Regular two-yearly mammography or breast screening is the gold standard in detecting breast cancer, because it can detect changes in the breast long before a woman or her doctor are able to feel anything.

“We can find cancers while they’re small and that means that there are more treatment options and treatment is usually less invasive because it’s picked up at an early stage,” Dr Young says.

With the help of early detection through breast screening, the five-year breast cancer survival rate has increased to 90 per cent – an impressive figure given breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer and the second highest cause of cancer-related deaths amongst women.

Have you tried making a day out of attending your breast screen appointment with a friend? Did you find her presence helpful?

IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. That means it’s not personalised health advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a health-related decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get professional medical advice.

BreastScreen Queensland

A breast screen only takes 30 minutes and is a must every two years for women aged between 50 and 74.

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