Benefits and harms of screening mammograms
It’s your choice whether or not to have regular mammograms to check for breast cancer. To help you decide, here are the benefits and risks of regular mammograms.
Regular mammograms save lives
Screening mammograms save lives by finding breast cancer early, when it can be treated before it grows or spreads to other parts of the body. Having regular mammograms can reduce your risk of dying from breast cancer by more than a third.
A mammogram helps find cancer as early as possible because it can show changes inside a breast before anything can be felt. You are more likely to survive breast cancer when cancers are found early and are small.
The potential for less treatment
Finding breast cancer early can mean you need less treatment than you would if it was found later and had spread to other parts of the body.
A proven method of finding cancer
In women aged 45 to 69, mammograms can find between 8 and 9 out of 10 cancers. It is still important to look for any changes to your breasts between mammograms, and to talk to your doctor about these immediately.
Regular free checks
Eligible women aged 45 to 69 can get a free mammogram every 2 years. Once you sign up, we will send you an appointment time, and you’ll get a reminder every 2 years.
Risks and harms
Some cancers may not harm you
A screening mammogram can find small breast cancers that would not be found if you were not screened. Some of these cancers might never grow enough during your lifetime to become life-threatening. This is true for up to 1 in 10 of the cancers found by breast screening. This is called overdiagnosis.
It is not possible to tell which of these cancers are going to become harmful and which will not, so treatment will be offered for every cancer. You will be able to discuss your treatment options with your specialist.
Mammograms do not find all cancers
A mammogram may look normal even if there is cancer somewhere in a breast. In women aged 45 to 69, about 1 or 2 out of 10 cancers are not found by mammograms.
A mammogram is an X-ray, and this exposes you to a small amount of radiation, but this is unlikely to cause harm. The amount of radiation is even smaller with digital mammograms.
Pain and worry
A mammogram can be uncomfortable or even painful for some women and can be a source of worry and anxiety. You can talk to the staff at the mammogram clinic about how you’re feeling, or your GP or practice nurse.
Remember, you can take a support person with you when you have your mammogram.