What happens during a mammogram as Julia Bradbury advises about importance of breast screenings

Julia Bradbury, pictured, has shared an image of her having a mammogram alongside a health warning. (Getty Images)
Julia Bradbury has shared an image of her having a mammogram alongside a health warning. (Getty Images)

Julia Bradbury has shared images from her mammogram as she continues to raise awareness of breast cancer and the increased risks associated with having dense breasts.

The TV presenter, 53, revealed in 2021 that she had been diagnosed with the disease and later underwent a mastectomy during which her breast plus two lymph glands were removed before reconstruction took place.

Having documented her healthy journey openly, Bradbury has now revealed how difficult it was for her to initially receive her diagnosis due to the composition of her breasts.

Sharing a combination of images to Instagram, including one of her taken during a mammogram and a picture of the scan itself, the Countryfile presenter explained that having dense breasts meant her tumour was missed on two separate occasions.

"I have dense breasts," she wrote. "What does that mean? It means cancerous tumours are more difficult to see on a mammogram. One doctor described it as looking for a snow flake in a snow storm."

Bradbury continued by explaining it took an ultrasound and an entire year to finally confirm her diagnosis.

Sharing her post to mark World Dense Breast Day, the mum-of-two went on to highlight the importance of not only mammograms but other supplementary breast screenings.

Read more: How to book a mammogram as Susanna Reid details 'hurdles' in securing an appointment (Yahoo Life UK, 4-min read)

Susanna Reid, pictured, recently gave an update on her mammogram appointment. (Getty Images)
Susanna Reid recently gave an update on her mammogram appointment. (Getty Images)

The warning comes as Susanna Reid recently revealed she had attended her mammogram appointment, advising viewers that it "wasn't painful in the slightest".

The 52-year-old presenter gave an update about her experience the breast check on Good Morning Britain earlier this year.

"I went in, and the nurse was absolutely lovely, and it wasn’t in the least bit painful or uncomfortable. I was expecting it to be far, far worse. So if you have been putting it off for that reason, please don’t. Go and get your mammogram done," she urged.

What is a mammogram?

Breast screening (often referred to as a mammogram) is a breast health check.

"NHS breast screening uses a mammogram, which is an x-ray test, to spot cancers at an early stage when they’re too small to see or feel," explains Professor Cliona Kirwan, chair of Prevent Breast Cancer’s scientific advisory board.

"Breast screening can pick up breast cancer before there are signs or symptoms."

Read more: How to check your breasts for lumps as Strictly's Amy Dowden shares cancer diagnosis (Yahoo Life UK, 3-min read)

There are various reasons why some women are skipping their breast screenings. (Getty Images)
It is important to attend your breast screening. (Getty Images)

Who can get a mammogram?

In England, breast screening is offered to all women aged 50 to 71 every three years.

However, if you have a strong family history of breast or ovarian cancer, or have been found to have an increased risk of cancer, you may be eligible for screening before the age of 50.

If you are older than 71, you can still have a screening every three years if you speak with your GP, but you won't automatically be invited.

Mammograms can help detect breast cancer early. (Getty Images)
Mammograms can help detect breast cancer early. (Getty Images)

What is involved in a mammogram?

The appointment will only take around half an hour and will be over before you know it.

"It’s a good idea to wear loose, comfortable clothing, as you will need to undress to the waist," Professor Kirwan advises. "It’s also worth skipping deodorant on the day of your scan as images are also taken under your armpits and having aluminium around that area can affect the results."

You may be asked to complete a questionnaire about your medical and family history, if you have had previous breast surgery, including breast implants, and if you are having hormone replacement therapy (HRT).

Your mammogram will be taken by a female practitioner who will place your breasts one at a time on an x-ray machine and compress them each for a few seconds. Pictures of the breasts will be taken from different angles, including the part around the underarms.

Read more: Sarah Beeny and other celebrities who have shared their breast cancer journey (Yahoo Life UK, 7-min read)

Will it hurt?

Although it may be uncomfortable, Professor Kirwan says it will only last a few seconds and isn’t harmful.

"It may not be the most pleasant procedure, but going for a mammogram will provide peace of mind and can also catch breast cancer at an earlier stage, making it more treatable," she adds.

Watch: Anxious about mammograms? This device may help you self-check for breast cancer

How long will it take to get results?

You should expect to receive your results no later than two weeks after your mammogram.

"Only around one in 25 women will be called back for further assessment, but don’t panic if you require further testing – it doesn’t necessarily mean that you are facing a cancer diagnosis," Professor Kirwan says.

"You may be recalled if the image taken on your scan wasn’t clear enough, this should be mentioned in your recall letter, and would be referred to as a ‘technical recall’.

"It is more common to be recalled after your first mammogram, as there aren’t any mammograms to compare to."

Women are asked to check their breasts regularly. (Getty Images)
Women are asked to check their breasts regularly. (Getty Images)

The importance of being breast aware

Being ‘breast aware’ means getting to know how your breasts look and feel at different times and telling your doctor straight away if you notice any unusual changes.

It takes only a few minutes to perform and can help detect breast cancers at an earlier stage.

It is important that women continue to look at and check their breasts regularly, even if they have had a recent mammogram.

Women are encouraged to use the ‘TLC’ method for checking their breasts and can visit Breast Cancer Now for more information:

  • TOUCH your breasts. Can you feel anything new or unusual?

  • LOOK for changes. Does anything look different?

  • CHECK any new or unusual changes with your GP.

More information on NHS breast screening checks is available at www.nhs.uk/conditions/breast-screening-mammogram and you can find your local NHS breast screening service here.