Breast screening (routine breast x-rays, called mammograms) helps to spot breast cancer early, often when it is too small to see or feel. Look out for your invitation (if you’re aged 50-70), or if you’re aged 70 or over, and haven’t had a breast x-ray in the last 3 years, you can still have routine breast x-rays every three years. Talk to your GP about booking an appointment. Remember to keep checking your breasts between x-rays.
Screening looks for early signs of cancer in people who do not have symptoms. If you have any of the possible symptoms of breast cancer see your GP straight away. Don't wait for your routine breast x-ray invitation.
Find out more about breast screening in Central and East London here.
Mammograms can spot lumps long before you can see or feel them. Screening saves approximately 1 person from breast cancer out of every 200 women who are screened. This adds up to about 1,300 lives saved from breast cancer each year in the UK.
Overall, for every 1 woman who has her life saved from breast cancer, about 3 women are diagnosed with a cancer that would never have become life-threatening. This is because doctors cannot always tell whether a breast cancer that is diagnosed will go on to be life-threatening, so they offer treatment to all women with breast cancer. Researchers are trying to find better ways to tell which women have breast cancers that will be life-threatening, and which women have cancers that will not.
All women aged over 50 are entitled to free, routine mammograms every three years.
It’s all about looking after your health, particularly as the risk of breast cancer increases with age.
If something’s wrong, the time to know is now. Chances are you’ll get the reassuring news that your mammogram is ‘normal’, but, if not, the sooner you're diagnosed the better. Mammograms can detect lumps before you can see or feel them, and early detection makes a full recovery very likely.
The NHS Breast Screening Programme is a rolling programme which calls women from doctors' practices one by one. This means not every woman receives her invitation as soon as she is 50. It will be sometime between the ages of 50 and 53. If you are registered with a GP and the practice has your correct details, then you will automatically receive an invitation. You don't need to contact anyone but you might like to ask your surgery when the women on their list are next due for screening.
Talk to your GP about booking an appointment. Don’t wait for your next routine invitation. Find out more about breast screening.
The risk of breast cancer increases with age, and you’re still entitled to have routine mammograms every three years. Talk to your GP about booking an appointment.
Women at higher than average risk of breast cancer due to a family history or inherited faulty gene can have screening from a younger age. If you think you might be at increased risk, speak to your GP. They can refer you to a genetic specialist, who will be able to assess your risk. Not everyone with a family history of cancer is at increased risk themselves.
Your appointment’s valuable and it’s easy to change. Every appointment can save a life. There’s no cost to you, but the NHS pays £100 for each appointment. Demand is high; so if you’re invited and can’t make it, let the screening unit know so that someone else can take your place.
When you arrive at the breast-screening unit, the staff will check your details and ask you about any breast problems you have had. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask. You can also bring along a female friend or relative.
Mammograms are carried out by women called mammographers. To have a mammogram, you need to undress to the waist, so it may be easier to wear a skirt or trousers instead of a dress. The mammographer will first explain what will happen. She will then place your breast onto the mammogram machine and lower a plastic plate onto it to flatten it. This helps to keep your breast still and get clear mammograms.
The mammographer will usually take two mammograms of each breast - one from above and one from the side. She will go behind a screen while the x-rays are taken. You have to keep still for several seconds each time.
The whole appointment takes less than half an hour and the mammogram only takes a few minutes.
And remember, mammograms don’t protect you from breast cancer, so keep checking your breasts regularly in between mammograms.
You will receive a letter with your breast screening results within two weeks of your appointment. The results will also be sent to your GP. At this stage, 96 out of 100 women will have their minds put at ease with the ‘all clear’ – a normal result. If you get this good news, remember that cancer can still develop between mammograms, so tell your GP straight away if you notice any breast changes.
About 4 in every 100 women are asked to come back for more tests after screening. Out of these 4 women, 1 will be found to have cancer. The rest will not have cancer and will go back to having screening invitations every 3 years.
Further information on breast screening is available from the NHS Breast Screening Programme.