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Well Women breast screening – helping you make the right decision for you

What is breast screening? 

The purpose of breast screening is to find women with breast cancer so that early treatment can be offered. Breast screening uses xrays (called mammograms) to find cancers in the breast which are too small to feel. 

What is breast cancer? 

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the UK with around 12,000 women dying of the disease every year. Breast cancer is a malignant tumour that is made up of a group of cancer cells found in the milk ducts that can grow into surrounding tissue and may spread to other areas of the body.

What increases the risk of developing breast cancer?  

The risk of developing breast cancer increases with age.  Most cancers are found in women aged over 50. A small number of breast cancers are caused by genetic mutations and are found in family groups.  Your lifestyle can also increase your risk. Being overweight, drinking alcohol and smoking can all be detrimental.

Who is screening for?

Breast screening is for women over 40 years of age who have no breast symptoms and who haven’t had a mammogram within the last 12 months.

What happens at screening?

You will be asked some routine questions before your examination to help the doctor reporting your images.

After undressing to your waist the mammographer will position you next to the x-ray machine and then will place each of your breasts in turn onto the x-ray table compressing them firmly with a plastic plate while the picture is taken.  This takes only a few seconds and then the pressure is released. At least two views are taken on each side in order to show all of the breast tissue. After the mammographer has told you how you will get your results you will be free to go. The whole examination should take no more than 15 minutes.

What might the results be? 

Your results may be normal. 96% of women will receive a normal result.

You may need further tests before a definite result can be given. 4% of all screened women will require further tests.

Sometimes your mammogram may need to be repeated for technical reasons.  You may not have been in the correct position or you may have moved during the picture.

However, it is not always easy to diagnose breast cancer on a mammogram and you should be aware that you may get a false result which may lead to unnecessary treatment and anxiety.

You may be told that you need extra tests before a diagnosis can be made.  After these tests you may be given the all clear and told that your result is normal.  This is called a false positive result and can be very worrying at the time. 4 out of every 100 women screened will need extra tests.  Only one of these women will have a cancer diagnosed.  The others will be classed normal and should attend for screening again when their next appointment is due. 

Not all cancers are visible on a mammogram. You may get a normal result when a small cancer is really there. This is called a false negative result. So even after a normal breast screening you should always see your GP if you find a change in your breast.

There is also a chance of overdiagnosis and treatment. Some of the cancers found on mammography are slow growing and may never develop into a life threatening cancer. But it’s impossible to differentiate these cancers and so some women will have treatment unnecessarily. Some studies have shown that if 2000 women are screened regularly for 10 years 10 women will undergo treatment unnecessarily. 

Rarely, cancers are missed on mammograms. Statistics show that there is a likelihood of 1 cancer being missed when 2,500 women are screened. 

Do I want breast screening?

Although breast screening cannot prevent breast cancer, it can detect it early which means that you are less likely to need a mastectomy and more likely to survive the disease. Research shows that surviving breast cancer is now much more possible with 3 out of 4 women diagnosed living at least 10 years. 1 life is saved for every 200 women that are screened.

What are the benefits of breast screening?

Knowing that no cancer has shown on your mammogram may give you reassurance and so you may feel less worried about breast cancer.

Detecting cancers when they are very small can mean simpler and less invasive treatment.

The purpose of breast screening mammograms is to find breast cancer early. This reduces your chance of dying from breast cancer due to early diagnosis and simpler treatment.

Making the right choice

Having a mammogram is your choice.  We want you to have as much information as possible so you are confident to make that choice. We encourage you to access this online tool which helps calculate your lifetime risk of developing breast cancer which you can compare with a women of the same age. If you find your risk is low you may decide not to proceed with the mammogram. This is fine. We just ask that you let us know so we can cancel your appointment. If you find your risk is high you may be anxious and want to ask some questions. We have a clinical support service manned by a group of trained doctors who can help you. Call the number above and a phone consultation can be arranged.  

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Shenfield Road
Brentwood
CM15 8EH

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Brighton
BN2 6DX

01273 624488

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Clifton
Bristol
BS8 1BN

01179 872 727

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Cambridge
CB2 8AF

01223 303336

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Hensol Castle Park
Vale of Glamorgan
CF72 8JX

02920 836714

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Cheltenham
GL51 6SY

01242 246552

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Chester
CH4 7QP

01244 680444

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Derby
DE23 4SN

01332 540100

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Exeter
EX2 4UG

01392 262110

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Glasgow
G12 0PJ

0800 616267

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Haywards Heath
RH16 1UD

01444 456999

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Hereford
HR1 1DF

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Ipswich
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01473 279100

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0191 281 6131

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Newcastle-under-Lyme
ST5 4DB

01782 625431

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Headington
Oxford
OX3 7RP

01865 307777

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Plymouth
PL6 8BG

01752 775861

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Shrewsbury
SY3 9DP

01743 282628

Staplegrove Elm
Taunton
TA2 6AN

01823 286991

Junction Road
Norton
Stockton on Tees
TS20 1PX

01642 367439

Kingswood Road
Tunbridge Wells
TN2 4UL

01892 531111

The Chase
Old Milverton Lane
Leamington Spa
CV32 6RW

01926 436351

Winchester Road
Chandlers Ford
Eastleigh
SO53 2DW

02380 266377

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Tettenhall
Wolverhampton
WV6 8LE

01902 793257

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York
YO31 8TA

01904 715000
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