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Screening for breast cancer

83 women

are diagnosed with breast cancer every week in Yorkshire

1,300 lives

are saved by breast screening every year in the UK

About breast screening

Breast screening can help to detect breast cancers early, when they might be too small to feel or see.

If breast cancer is diagnosed early, it can often be treated successfully by removing the cancer or stopping it from spreading to other parts of the body.

1 in 8 women are diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime, so it is important to attend your breast screening when you are invited.

We encourage as many women as possible to participate because when cancer is diagnosed at an early stage, it is usually easier to treat.

If you have any questions about breast screening, talk to your doctor or practice nurse.

If you think you may have missed a breast screening appointment or are over 71 and would like to arrange an appointment, contact your local screening centre.

Key questions about breast screening answered

Breast screening in Yorkshire

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women in Yorkshire with around 83 women diagnosed every week.

We encourage everyone to attend breast screening when invited. Yorkshire Cancer Research is funding research in our region to improve participation in all cancer screening, including breast screening. Local programmes can identify the reasons why people don’t attend screening appointments and address these issues with specific and targeted approaches.

Breast screening saves around 1,300 lives each year in the UK.

Who is invited for breast screening?

If you are registered with a GP, you will be invited for your first breast screening between the ages of 50 and 53 and then every three years until your 71st birthday.

If you have not been sent an invitation by the time you are 53 and think you should have or, if you are 71 and over and would like to  attend contact your local breast screening unit. Find your local unit here.

Talk to your GP straight away if you notice any symptoms of breast cancer – don’t wait until your next screening appointment.

How often will I be invited for breast screening?

After your first breast screening you will be invited every three years until you are 71.

If you are 71 and over you can still ask your local breast screening unit for an appointment.

Find your local unit here (NHS)

What if I am trans or non-binary?

Advice for trans men or non-binary people assigned female at birth

If you have not had chest reconstruction (top) surgery, you should consider taking part in screening. If you have had chest reconstruction surgery, there might be some remaining breast tissue, but this will be too small to examine using mammography. Talk to a GP if you notice any changes in your breast tissue, or symptoms of breast cancer.

If you are registered with your GP as female

You will be invited for breast screening. If you would like to opt out of breast screening, you can contact your local screening service.

If you are registered with your GP as male

You will not be invited for breast screening. If you have not had chest reconstruction surgery and would like to take part in screening  you can organise your mammogram by visiting your GP or booking an appointment at your local screening service.

Advice for trans women or non-binary people assigned male at birth

If you have been taking hormone therapy for more than 2 years you should consider attending breast screening as some research suggests that this can increase breast cancer risk compared to cisgender men. If you have had breast implants, this may make it harder to see parts of the breast and so the mammogram isn’t as clear. You can tell the radiographer carrying out your screening, so that they can use the best technique. There is no need to tell them that you are trans or non-binary.

If you are registered with your GP as male

You will not be invited for breast screening. If you would like to take part in screening you can organise your mammogram by visiting your GP or booking an appointment at your local screening service.

If you are registered with your GP as female

You will be invited for breast screening. If you would like to opt out of breast screening, you can contact your local screening service.

What happens during a breast screening appointment?

An x-ray test called a mammogram is used for breast screening. This test can find breast cancers when they are too small to see or feel.

Mammograms are carried out at special clinics or mobile breast screening units by a female member of staff. She will explain the process to you and then ask you to undress to the waist. Your breast will be placed onto the mammogram machine and a plastic plate will be lowered onto it gently but firmly to flatten it. Two x-rays of each breast will be taken – one above and one from the side.

96 in 100

women get a normal result after their screening

What could the results of the screening be?

After your mammogram, the x-ray will be checked for abnormalities and your results will usually be sent to you by post within two weeks of your appointment.

If you get a normal result this means that your mammogram did not show any signs of breast cancer and you will be invited to screening again in three years.

A clear result does not guarantee that you will never get breast cancer. You should continue to go for screening in the future and regularly check your breasts.

96 in 100 women get a normal result. 4 in 100 women get an abnormal result. 1 in 4 women who get an abnormal result will have a breast cancer.

An abnormal result means that you will be called back for further tests such as a breast exam, biopsy or ultrasound. These will look in  more detail at whether you may have breast cancer.

What effect has the COVID-19 pandemic had on breast screening? Can I still take part?

There was some disruption to breast screening at the beginning of the pandemic, but the NHS worked very hard to restart the screening programmes and have been sending out invitations since summer 2020. GP surgeries have put extra precautions in place to make sure your risk of COVID-19 is low, including:

  • Staggering appointments to ensure social distancing and thorough cleaning in between patients.
  • Social distancing measures in the waiting room.
  • Use of protective equipment including apron, gloves and mask

Therefore, if you receive your invitation letter, don’t delay in making an appointment. If you think you have missed a screening  appointment, contact your local breast screening unit, find yours here (NHS).

What are the benefits and risks of breast screening?

Yorkshire Cancer Research recommends women take part in breast cancer screening. Despite the very small risks of missed diagnosis or overdiagnosis, the programme is designed to save lives and is recognised for its success. Without it, fewer women would be diagnosed with an early-stage cancer and more women would die of breast cancer each year. Breast screening saves lives.

Breast screening is one of the best ways to spot a breast cancer early, while it is more likely to be treated successfully with less
aggressive treatments. No screening test is completely effective, and breast screening does come with some small risks:

Following breast screening, some women will be diagnosed with a breast cancer that would never have been found without screening and would never have caused them harm. This is known as overdiagnosis and it is estimated that for every 200 women screened every 3 years between the ages of 50 and 70, 3 will have an ‘overdiagnosed’ cancer. This could lead to distress for the individual and their family, and treatment that isn't needed.

There’s a small chance that you may receive a negative result when cancer is in fact present. Breast screening picks up most breast cancers, but very occasionally cancers will be missed. It is therefore important that you are aware of the symptoms of breast cancer, and see your GP if you notice anything unusual.

Most women will find their mammogram uncomfortable, and a small minority painful, however mammography practitioners are used to screening women of all sizes and will do their best to minimise any discomfort. Research has shown that for most women it's less painful than having a blood test and compares with having blood pressure measured. The mammogram itself only lasts a few minutes and could save your life.