The NHS Breast Screening Programme began in 1988.  It aims to invite all women aged from 50 up until their 71st birthday for breast screening once every three years.  Nationally, the programme screens over 2 million women each year and diagnoses about 16,500 breast cancers annually.

The aim of breast screening is to detect breast cancer at an early stage; often before the woman is aware of any problem.  The earlier it is detected, the better the chances of surviving it.  Scientific evidence shows that regular breast screening, between the ages of 50 up to 71 years, reduces the death rate from breast cancer. (Visit NHS Breast Cancer Screening webpage for more details).

What is mammography?

Breast screening mammography is an x-ray examination of the breasts and is a way of finding breast cancer at a very early stage.

At your screening appointment a female mammographer will explain breast screening to you and ask you a few questions.  She will then take the x-rays by compressing your breasts, one at a time between two special x-ray plates.  The compression only lasts a few seconds and there is no evidence this harms the breast.  Compression is needed to keep the breast still, in order to get the clearest picture with the lowest amount of radiation.

Some women find mammography uncomfortable and some find it painful as the breasts have to be held firmly in position and pressed.  If you do experience pain it usually only lasts as long as the mammogram, although it may continue for some time in a small number of women.  But be assured, the pain does go away.

Please do not use talcum powder or spray-on deodorant on the day you go for breast screening as this may affect the quality of your mammogram.

Why we screen?

One in seven women will develop breast cancer at some time in their life and 80% of breast cancers occur in women over 50 years old.  The risk of breast cancer increases as women get older and this is why the Breast Screening Programme invites women from the age of 50 years. 

Breast screening can help to find small changes in the breast before there are any other signs or symptoms.  Early detection may mean simpler and more successful treatment.  The latest research shows that the NHS Breast Screening Programme is now saving over 1400 lives every year in England.

Who we screen?

We screen all eligible women aged between 50 up until their 71st birthday and registered with a GP in East Lancashire.  A list of women that are eligible for breast screening is compiled from GP records, so it is important to make sure your details are correct.

The appointment letter is sent out automatically.  All women will receive their first letter for a mammogram sometime between their 50th and 53rd birthday.

We invite women registered at a GP practice for screening in turn, so this may mean that you do not get your letter in the year that you turn 50 years old.  As long as you are registered with a GP, you will get your invitation letter before your 53rd birthday.

Please remember; anyone of any age with concerns about their breasts should contact their GP immediately; even if you are eligible for breast screening.  Do not wait for your screening appointment.

Screening results

Your mammograms are reviewed and the results will be sent to you within two weeks.  Your GP will also be notified of your results. There are 3 possible results:

Your X-rays have shown no signs of cancer and you will be invited again in three years’ time for your next routine screen.  

If after three years your age will be over 71 years old, you will not be routinely invited for breast screening.  If you would still like to be screened; please contact us for an appointment nearer the time.

The mammogram needs to be repeated for technical reasons only. Occasionally not all of the breast tissue can be seen on the X-ray or the images may be blurred. The mammogram needs to be repeated to ensure all the breast tissue can be seen clearly.  

Approximately three out of every 100 women screened will be called back for a technical repeat to get a good quality mammogram. You may be invited to attend the static unit at Burnley or the mobile van at a different location please contact us if the date/time or location is inconvenient. 

Sometimes we need more detail about an area we have seen on the mammogram before we can decide on a result. If this is the case you will receive an appointment to attend our assessment clinic at our static site at Burnley General Teaching Hospital.  

This additional appointment is part of routine screening and for most women who are invited back, nothing of concern will be found. Approximately five out of 100 women who have breast screening will be asked to come back to our clinic for a further examination. Of the five women, four will have a normal result.

Coming for an assessment?

Some women will be invited back for further assessments.  If you are invited back, this will be because more detail is needed about an area seen on your mammogram (breast X-ray). This is necessary before we can decide on a result.

This additional appointment is part of routine screening and for most women being invited back may mean that nothing of concern will be found.

If you would like specific information about the reason you have been invited back you may find it helpful to speak to one of our team.

Please call the Breast Screening Office on 01282 805301.

Approximately five out of every 100 women who have been screened will be invited for this additional assessment.  Out of the five women, four will have a normal result.

On arrival, most women will meet a breast care nurse who will explain what will happen during the clinic.

You may have some or all of the following tests:

Breast examination: the doctor/practitioner will talk to you about your mammograms and will ask you some questions about your general health and then examine your breasts.

Mammograms: most women will have further mammograms in order to show a particular part of the breast in greater detail.

Breast ultrasound: most women will have a breast ultrasound scan.  An ultrasound scan uses sound waves to provide a picture of the breast tissue.  It does not involve x-rays.

Breast needle biopsy: it may be necessary for some women to have a small sample of tissue taken from the breast.  Local anaesthetic is always used to numb the area first.

The doctor or practitioner will explain your mammogram and ultrasound scan results to you at the assessment clinic.  

If you have a needle biopsy your result will be ready in 7 to 10 days.  We will make you an appointment to get your biopsy results before you leave the clinic.

Your appointment may take between two and five hours.  This is because we aim to do all the necessary tests at the same appointment.  As you are likely to be in the clinic for some time, you may wish to bring a friend or relative to sit with you while you wait.

We appreciate that it may be worrying to be invited for a further appointment but please remember that the majority of women (four out of every five) that come back to this assessment clinic are found to have a normal result.

If you have symptoms or breast concerns

The National Breast Screening Programme is a population screening programme for well women and it is not aimed at women who already have symptoms.  If you have a breast symptom or are concerned about your breasts, you should contact your GP without delay.  The GP will decide whether you need any tests or investigations. A mammogram will pick up most, but not all breast problems, and is one of a range of tests that may be required for women with breast symptoms.

If you would like more information about breast symptoms you may find it helpful to visit the Breast Cancer Now website.