Ever wondered about Mammography?

She aims for clear pristine images of the breasts but to do that a mammographer has to invade her client's space. Mammography is an intimate job, even challenging at times but breast cancer is the third most common cancer in the U.K and routine breast screening significantly reduces the mortality rate. Mammographers working in the screening program will describe their work as rewarding because detecting even the smallest of cancers before any symptoms can make a difference in a woman’s life -- that’s what makes it all worthwhile.

Although screening accounts for a large part of their work, mammographers also see women who attend the Symptomatic Breast Imaging Services in hospitals.

The Facts

The National Health Breast Screening Program spends approximately £ 96 million a year on the screening program providing 80 screening units in England, centres where women between the ages of 47 and 73 can be x-rayed to detect early breast cancer. The NHS breast screening program saves around 1,300 lives in England every year.

Clients and Patients

Screening mostly takes place in mobile vans where two mammographers have to complete a list of clients for the day. Speed, accuracy, compassion and respect are key factors when dealing with healthy ladies who have responded to the invitation for a free breast screen.

Women may be called back for further tests after their initial mammograms. On these assessment days, mammographers work closely with the radiology team to image and investigate any breast abnormalities; in most cases biopsies are performed the same day.

This can be a stressful day – you never know how many further views you’ll need per patient and you’ll have to assist at biopsies as you chase those obscure abnormalities. What’s good for us though, is that we use our skills to take more complex images, increase our knowledge on breast diseases, and thirdly you get to work as a real team.

One stop clinic

IN 2010, The NHS incorporated a symptomatic two week wait standard for GP referrals with suspecting breast cancer. This provides a quick and efficient service for both men and women, but meeting the standard means extra clinics, more imaging and ultimately more need for mammographers.

After Breast Cancer

Routine Surveillance after breast cancer treatment is vital; symptomatic clinics provide follow up clinics where women have yearly mammograms. These patients need more time, more compassion and more patience.


To work in Breast Screening, radiographers need to follow a post graduate course in one of the 5 centres in the U.K.

Suzy James, who did the post graduate course at Kings College Hospital in London said: “I did the course in 12 months which allowed me to be promoted to a band 6 radiographer. Most challenging of all during the training was stereo biopsies. I felt so sorry for the patient. Mammographers have to get used to working fast. I was put on the mobile van as a third radiographer which was good for me. Speed is vital not only for through- put of the clients but also to keep good relationships with your work colleagues.”

Further information on postgraduate mammography courses can be found on the Society of Radiographers website.

The challenges


We mammographers need to watch our shoulders, necks and thumbs. Repetitive and awkward movements, as well as working in a confined space can cause injury to our muscles, nerves and ligaments.

Stretch, reach, position -- This use to be a nightmare in the old days when we used analogue films, but thanks to new C arm digital equipment, we stretch and reach a lot less as we position.

Do you do this all-day?

Suzy James said this is the one question that can really make mammographers see red as she is x- raying a client on a busy day. I agree. This insensitive question does strike a chord even amongst the gentlest and laid- back amongst us, especially as we have to work to speed and aim to treat our women with respect and dignity.

Over time I found the perfect answer, or rather the perfect question that gets the client thinking.

“Do you say this to your dentist?” I ask with a smile. It does the trick every time.

The future

The future is bright for U.K trained mammographers. They can go on to be advanced practitioners performing film reading, stereotactic and ultrasound breast ultrasound biopsies. Many go on to be mammography trainers in their departments. With their expert knowledge, skills and responsibilities, these mammographers have progressed to band 7 and 8 in the NHS job evaluation system.


Author: Alice Alech

Alice did her mammography training in Australia where she lived for a few years. She now lives in the South of France working during the winter months as a mammographer for Rig Healthcare. Catch her at http://provencialprovence.blogspot.com/

Sources: http://www.cancerscreening.nhs.uk/breastscreen/cost.html


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