Your mammogram appointment

All women in the UK who are of screening age and registered with a GP will be invited for breast screening every three years.

Breast screening takes place at a breast screening unit. This might be in a hospital or a mobile unit. You will be sent information about breast screening with your appointment. If you cannot make the appointment or you have any questions, contact the breast screening unit. The number will be on the invitation letter.

The screening appointment takes about 30 minutes. The radiographer who does the screening will explain the process to you. They will ask you to remove your clothes from the top half of your body. They will position your breast on the x-ray machine. They will flatten your breast against a clear plastic sheet. This is to keep your breast still and get a clear picture. It may be uncomfortable for a short time while the x-rays are being taken. You will have two x-rays taken of each breast.

Many screening units now use digital mammograms which produce better quality pictures. The images are stored on computer images instead of x-ray films.

Getting your mammogram appointment

All women of screening age who are registered with a GP will get a letter inviting them for breast screening.

When you get your invitation, you will be given a date and time to go to a local breast screening unit. There are screening units throughout the UK. These can be in a hospital or in a mobile unit (a large van). If the appointment time does not suit you, you can phone the breast screening unit to ask for another time. The contact number will be on the letter.

You will get a leaflet with your letter that explains what will happen at your appointment. You can ask for this information to be translated or sent to you in large print, audio or British Sign Language (BSL).

You can contact the screening unit if you are finding it difficult to decide whether to have breast screening. Staff at the unit can answer any questions you have, or give you more information to help you decide. You can also talk to your GP or our cancer support specialists on 0808 808 00 00.

If you decide not to go for screening, let the unit know by letter or telephone. They can offer your appointment to someone else. If you change your mind, you can make a new appointment by contacting the unit. Even if you do not go, you will still be invited for screening again in three years if you are under the age of 70.

If you do not want to be invited again, ask the screening centre or your GP to remove your name from the system. You can be added back on if you change your mind.

If you need an interpreter

If you need an interpreter at your appointment, you should contact your screening unit before you go to arrange this. Some units will allow a female family member or friend to translate information for you. But others prefer that you use an interpreter.

If you have breast implants

You will still be invited to screening if you have implants because you still have breast tissue around the implant. You should tell your breast screening unit about your implants when you get your invitation. Your appointment may take about five minutes longer compared to having a mammogram without an implant.

You will need to have your screening at a unit where your mammograms can be looked at immediately. The staff will want to check that the images show as much of your breast tissue as possible.

The pressure applied to your breasts during the screening is unlikely to damage your implants. Mammograms for breast screening do not check your implants. If you think that there is a problem with them, let your GP know.

If you have been treated for breast cancer

You will still be invited for screening if you have been treated for breast cancer. If you are still having follow-up mammograms at the hospital where you were treated, you do not need to go for screening. But let the screening unit know if you are not going to the appointment. If you are no longer having regular mammograms at your treating hospital, you should go for screening when invited.

What happens during the appointment?

A screening appointment usually takes about 30 minutes. When you arrive, you will meet a receptionist or radiographer who will check your name, age and address. Your breast screening will nearly always be done by female staff.

You will be asked some questions about your general health and whether you have had any breast problems. The radiographer will explain how the mammogram images are taken and can answer any questions you might have about breast screening. If you are happy to go ahead, you will then have your mammogram.

The screening unit staff are trained to reassure and support you. If you feel it would help, you may be able to bring someone with you. Contact the screening unit before your appointment to arrange this. Men are not usually allowed in the screening area but can wait in the waiting room.

If you think you will need help with travel costs to and from hospital, speak to the breast screening staff about this.

Having a mammogram

You will be asked to take off your clothes from the waist up. The radiographer will then position you so your breast is against the x-ray machine. She will gently but firmly flatten your breast with a clear, plastic plate. Your breast needs to be held this way to keep it still and to get a clear picture. You might find this uncomfortable, but this should only be while you are having the mammogram. You need to stay still for less than a minute while each mammogram is taken. You can ask to stop at any time if you feel too uncomfortable.

Remember, the radiographer carries out many mammograms every day. She is used to screening women of all sizes and will try to make you as comfortable as possible.

You will have two mammogram images taken of each breast, from different angles. For women with very large breasts, extra images might be needed to make sure that all the breast tissue is included.

When the mammograms have been taken, you can get dressed and leave. Your mammogram images will then be examined by two specially trained radiologists.

Digital mammograms

Many screening units now use digital mammograms, which produce better quality pictures. They use a slightly lower x-ray dose and are stored as computer images instead of x-ray films.


Tomosynthesis uses digital x-rays to create three-dimensional (3D) pictures of the breast. A trial is comparing tomosynthesis with a standard mammogram to screen young women with a high risk of developing breast cancer. The trial has now closed and the results are not yet available.

Back to Breast screening

The breasts

Breasts are made of fat, supportive (connective tissue) and glandular tissue that contains lobes (milk glands).

Being breast aware

Knowing what your breasts normally feel and look like can help you to notice any changes early.