What is breast screening?
Cancer screening involves testing apparently healthy people for signs that could show that a cancer is developing.
Breast screening uses a test called mammography which involves taking x-rays of the breasts. Screening can help to find breast cancers early when they are too small to see or feel. These tiny breast cancers are usually easier to treat than larger ones.
It is important to remember that screening will not prevent you from getting breast cancer but aims to find early breast cancers.
Overall, the breast screening programme finds cancer in around 9 out of every 1,000 women having screening.
It’s important to remember that screening is for healthy people with no symptoms. If you notice any unusual changes to your body that don’t go away, talk to your doctor. In most cases it won’t be cancer, but it’s best to get it checked out.
Who has breast screening?
Each year more than 2 million women have breast cancer screening in the UK. The NHS Breast Screening Programme invites all women from the age of 50 to 70 for screening every 3 years. This means that some people may not have their first screening mammogram until they are 52 or 53 years.
In some parts of England, the screening programme has been inviting women from 47 to 73 years old as part of a trial.
If you are older than 70, you can still have screening every 3 years but you won’t automatically be invited. To make an appointment, talk to your GP or your local breast screening unit.
If you are younger than 50, your risk of breast cancer is generally very low. Mammograms are more difficult to read in younger women because their breast tissue is denser. So the patterns on the mammogram don’t show up as well. There is little evidence to show that regular mammograms for women below the screening age would reduce deaths from breast cancer.
Breast screening is also for some trans or non-binary people. Talk to your GP or Gender Identity Clinic about this.
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