Breast Screening

breast screening

What is breast screening?

Breast cancer is common. Around 1 in 9 women will develop breast cancer at some point. It most commonly affects women over the age of 50 years. Breast screening aims to detect breast cancer at an early stage, before symptoms or signs develop, such as a lump. Breast screening involves having an X-ray picture of each of your breasts, which is called mammography.

Who has breast screening?

Currently, all women aged 50-70 years are offered a routine breast screening test every three years.
Screening is a must starting from 40 years if you have any of the following:

  • You have had breast cancer in the past.
  • You have a first-degree relative (mother or sister) who has had breast cancer at a young age.
  • You are known to have a gene which makes you more prone to breast cancer, such as genes called BRCA1, BRCA2 and TP53.

How is breast screening done?

When you arrive at the clinic you will be asked to undress down to your waist, including removing your bra. Note: don't use talcum powder or spray-on deodorant on the day of your mammogram as this can sometimes interfere with the test. A radiographer will help to position each breast between two flat X-ray plates. This can be a little uncomfortable but is usually only for a few seconds as the X-ray picture is taken. Two X-rays are taken of each breast (one from above and one into the armpit diagonally across the breast).

Note: if you have had breast implants, you can still have breast screening. This may be done in a hospital-based screening unit.

Does breast screening save lives?

Research studies have shown that breast screening has significantly reduced the number of deaths from breast cancer. The International Agency for Research on Cancer has shown that there is a 35% reduction in the chance of death due to breast cancer in women who are screened regularly with mammography.

Are there any risks or harms with breast screening?

Having a mammogram is a reliable way of screening for breast cancer. But, as with any screening test, it is not perfect.

Firstly, there is concern about the over-diagnosis of breast cancer.

Secondly, some women become very anxious if they are recalled for further tests following the screening test because of concerns about an abnormality.

Thirdly, some people worry about the risk of radiation from the X-ray screening test and that it may be harmful and even increase your risk of breast cancer. However, the amount of radiation used is small and the risk of the X-ray test itself being harmful is very small indeed.

Also, very occasionally, breast screening may miss some breast cancers.

Breast awareness

A lot of breast cancers are detected early by breast screening. However, a small number are not. All women of every age should still remain breast aware. That is, get to know how your breasts and nipples normally look and feel, and any changes that occur before and after your periods.

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