6 Oct, 2023

The who, what and why of mammograms

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There’s a lot of uncertainty about breast screening, so we’ve put together answers to some of the questions we get asked the most (with the help of resources from timetoscreen.nz, Breast Cancer Foundation NZ and Breast Screen Aotearoa) to help you understand the importance of taking the time to get screened!

The Fono provides a range of support services to make it even easier. Whether it’s helping make the appointment, getting you there, or being with you when you get your results, our Breast Screen coordinators will be by your side.

Having your first mammogram can be intimidating, and many of us put off that first appointment, either because we’re afraid it will hurt or that we’ll find out something is wrong.

But breast screening is nothing to be afraid of. It’s an important part of keeping yourself in good health for years to come, giving you more time with your whānau.

What is a mammogram?

A mammogram is an X-ray of the breast that looks for changes that may be breast cancer.

During a mammogram, your breast will be pressed between the plates of the mammogram machine for a couple of minutes, while the technician takes the X-rays. At least two pictures of each breast are taken to make sure everything is seen.

Your breasts are pressed as flat as possible so that as much of the tissue can be seen in the X-ray. It is a little uncomfortable, but is over pretty quickly and the technicians will work as fast as they can!

From checking in to walking out, the appointment usually takes about 20 minutes. 

Although it’s not the most comfortable thing, getting regular mammograms are important as they can save lives by catching cancer or changes early before it spreads.

In Aotearoa, breast cancer is the most common cancer that affects women. Through early intervention and (if required) treatment, screening can save your life.

Who should get a mammogram?

As part of the screening programme run by Breast Screen Aotearoa, women aged between 45 and 69 are eligible to get a free mammogram every 2 years. 

This includes anyone in this age range who

  • have no symptoms of breast cancer
  • have not had a mammogram from another provider within the last 12 months
  • are not currently pregnant or breastfeeding
  • and are eligible for public health services in NZ

You can sign up for your free mammogram by calling Breast Screen Aotearoa on 0800 270 200 or completing this form.

What about women under 45 or over 69 years?

It’s recommended that from the age of 20 years you should get to know what your breasts look and feel like normally, so you can see or feel any changes that are unusual for you.

No matter what age you are, and even if you are having regular mammograms, watch out for changes such as:

  • a new lump or thickening
  • puckering or dimpling
  • an inverted nipple
  • changes in shape or size
  • a rash on the nipple or reddened skin on your breast
  • discharge from your nipple.

If you notice any of these changes, see your doctor as soon as you can.

Don’t wait for your next mammogram. These symptoms may not be cancer but you need to have them checked. It could save your life.

Not sure how to correctly check your breasts? To find out how, watch this simple video:

For more information on the best ways to take care of your breasts visit the Breast Cancer Foundation

How we can help

Our Breast Screen coordinators are trained to provide you with support at every step of this journey by:

  • helping schedule your appointment
  • going with you to your appointment for support
  • driving you to and from your appointment if needed
  • helping with interpretation and translation
  • filling out forms and keeping track of appointments
  • supporting you through your results and (if needed) treatment

If you would like to speak with our Breast Screen Coordinator about your next (or first) mammogram call Salome on 021 0266 8485 or email breastscreening@thefono.org

Read more about breast screening in our resources