Mammography involves taking an x-ray picture of each breast while it is being gently compressed. Mammography is a useful diagnostic test at a one-stop clinic and can also be used for breast screening. Although it can sometimes cause mild discomfort in some women it helps to detect breast cancer at an early stage before changes can be felt in the breast. Because it detects breast cancer at an early stage it has helped to reduce the death rate from breast cancer in breast screening programmes in Europe that have been targeted at women over 50 years old.
Mammography will not pick up all breast cancers however. In women over 50 the sensitivity (chance of detecting breast cancer) of this test is around 85% but under age 50, the sensitivity can be lower due to the presence of more dense breast tissue.