Breast screening is a way of finding breast cancers early, when they are small. When breast cancer is diagnosed early, less treatment is needed and it is more likely to be effective. The first stage of breast screening is a mammogram, which is an x-ray of each breast.
Every year, over two million women have screening with the NHS breast screening programmes in the UK. All women registered with a GP (family doctor) and aged between 50 to 70 are invited for a mammogram every three years.
In England, a research trial is looking at extending the age range to include women aged between 47 to 49 and 71 to 73. Most local breast screening centres in England are taking part. If you live in England, you may be invited to have breast screening as part of this trial.
If you’re under 50
Women younger than the screening age are not routinely offered breast screening. This is because breast cancer is less common in women under the age of 50. Mammograms are also less reliable before the menopause, which happens around the age of 50. After the menopause, breast tissue is less dense. This is because there is less glandular and connective tissue, and more fatty tissue. This makes mammograms easier to read and the results more reliable.
Women under 50 who have an increased risk of breast cancer because of a family history of breast cancer may be offered regular screening.
Remember, you should always see your GP if you have any changes in your breasts.
If you’re over 70
If you are over the age of 70, you can still have screening because you are still at risk of breast cancer. You won’t receive an invitation letter, but you can contact your local screening clinic every three years to arrange a mammogram.
You can find out where your local screening clinic is by asking your GP. Or you can search on the NHS website.