Mammography FAQ

Question 1: Who should have a screening mammogram?

Yearly mammography is recommended for women 40 - 49 years of age. Women over 50 years should be having a screening mammogram every two years.

It may be appropriate that women with a family history of breast cancer start having mammography at an earlier age, or have annual mammograms.

Question 2: What happens when you have a mammogram?

  • Once in the mammography room you will be asked to remove your clothing from the waist up. A breast examination will then be completed by the radiographer.
  • You will then be instructed to stand in front of the mammography machine where the radiographer will then carefully place your breast (one at a time) on to the imaging plate.
  • The radiographer will slowly bring a second plate down to compress your breast, nothing excessive just enough to achieve an adequate image of your breast. The pressure will last for a few seconds.
  • Generally two views of each breast are taken. One from above and one from the side. The radiographer will give you clear instructions throughout the procedure.

Questions 3: Where can I have a screening mammogram?

You may have a private screening mammogram with us at Canterbury BreastCare. There will be a cost involved in this procedure. However, if your GP considers you are at a higher risk, you may be eligible for funding under a Canterbury DHB contract. If you are having a mammogram through the National Breast Screening programme there will be no charge.

The National Breast Screen programme offers a free mammogram to 'asymptomatic' (no breast concerns) women every two years between the ages of 45 - 69 years. You may enrol by phoning 0800 270 200 or by contacting your own doctor. Refer to question 12 for more information.

Question 4: How do I prepare for my mammogram?

  • For your convenience, wear a two piece outfit (skirt or trousers and a top) as you will be asked to undress from the waist up.
  • Please do not wear talcum powder or deodorant as it may cause artifacts on the images.
  • If your breasts are sore / tender prior to your appointment (due to your menstrual cycle) it may be possible to rebook your appointment for a day when you are more comfortable.
  • A screening mammogram takes approximately thirty minutes. However, a diagnostic mammogram (if you have breast concerns) may take up to two hours if further investigations are required.
  • Please bring any previous mammogram images with you to your appointment if you have had these at another practice.

Question 5: Will my mammogram hurt?

The technique of mammography involves compressing your breast tissue for a short time to x-ray the breast. The pressure can be uncomfortable, but most women cope extremely well. If you find the pressure too much please inform the radiographer immediately.

Due to the compression of the breast tissue you may experience some redness of the skin following your mammogram and in rare cases bruising.

The compression of the breast tissue does not harm the breast tissue.

Question 6: What happens to the results of my mammogram?

Your mammogram will be reported by at least two radiologists (breast x-ray specialists). They will look for any abnormalities, and will also compare the images to any previous mammograms you may have had. Canterbury BreastCare will keep your images stored safely on our premises.

Your referring doctor will receive a copy of the report from your mammogram usually within 14 days. Please contact your doctor for the result.

For women screened on the National Breast Screening Programme, your results will be posted to you directly within three weeks. Your GP will also receive a copy if you have previously agreed to this.

Question 7: What if I have an abnormal result?

If an area on your screening mammogram requires further checking you will be contacted for another appointment with us. This appointment may involve -

  • Further mammogram images
  • Ultrasound
  • A biopsy (taking of a small sample of tissue for examination under a microscope)

Question 8: Are mammograms safe?

With modern day equipment and technology the radiation dose used to achieve your mammogram is very low. The benefits of finding and treating a breast cancer early far outweigh any risk from the x-rays.

Question 9: Do I need to have a mammogram if I am well and can't feel any breast lumps?

A mammogram can detect changes and abnormalities in your breast before you can actually feel any lumps in your breast. If you are found to have breast cancer, this early detection of the cancer greatly increases your prognosis.

Question 10: How common is breast cancer?

  • Approximately 1 in 10 New Zealand women will develop breast cancer at some stage in their lifetime.
  • In New Zealand, breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer death among women.
  • Early detection and treatment of breast cancer significantly improves a woman's chance of survival.
  • New Zealand Breast Cancer Foundation website has useful information regarding breast cancer.

Question 11: What happens when a diagnosis of breast cancer is made?

If a diagnosis of breast cancer is made your GP will refer you to the appropriate specialist (breast surgeon, oncologist, breast nurse) for further treatment.

Question 12: What is the National Breast Screening Programme?

BreastScreen Aotearoa is a national breast screening programme which offers a free mammogram every two years, to all women in New Zealand aged 45 - 69 years.

You may enrol by phoning 0800 270 200 or by contacting your own doctor.

Screening mammograms for the Programme are performed at Canterbury BreastCare, After Hours Radiology, Cashmere Radiology, Greymouth or on the Mobile unit, which has sites at Christchurch, Ashburton, Kaikoura, Culverden, and Westport.

Other affiliated sites are South Canterbury Mammography Unit in Timaru, Nelson Radiology, Wairau Hospital in Blenheim, and the Takaka mobile unit.

Question 13: Need more information?

If you require further information about mammography, please speak to your doctor or phone Canterbury BreastCare on (03) 355 1194, and our staff will be more than happy to help you.