Breast Screening

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Breast screening aims to detect breast cancer early and save lives. It can find breast cancer when the cancer is too small to discover in a physical examination. Screening for breasts is performed when a woman has no signs or symptoms of breast cancer.

Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer in the UK. By finding breast cancer early, less treatment may be needed and the treatment is more likely to be effective. Tiny breast cancers are usually easier to treat than larger ones and the breast cancer may be caught before it spreads.


What is a breast screen and how does it work?

A breast screen involves testing your breasts to check them for cancers before you have any cancer symptoms. There are a number of ways to screen for breast cancer. A mammogram is the most frequently used breast screen. Sometimes screening tests are used together as they may allow your doctor to see things that aren’t visible on other breast screen tests.

Types of Breast Screening

  • Mammogram – takes a picture of each of your breasts using an X-ray scan. Mammography is the most commonly performed breast screen. It is typically the first stage of breast screening. It may find tumours that are too small to feel. A mammogram appointment will take about 30 minutes. Usually, a female mammographer will take two breast X-rays for each breast.
  • Breast MRI - uses magnetic waves to build up a detailed picture of your breasts. MRI scans are often used for younger women with denser breast tissue as can give a clearer image. Breast MRI is also used as a screening test for women who have a high risk of breast cancer.
  • Ultrasound - sends high-frequency sound waves through your breast and converts them to images. Targeted ultrasound allows your doctor to look at a specific breast area of concern.


What does a breast screen test for?

A breast screen can help to find breast cancers early when they are too small to feel or see in a physical examination.

Breast screening looks for signs of disease, such as breast cancer, when you have no symptoms.

Mammography may spot tiny tumours or cancer cells in your breast that are only inside your milk ducts (tubes) and have not spread any further. This is called ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS). This non-invasive cancer may grow into your surrounding breast. If this happens, breast cancer is termed invasive. It may spread to other parts of your body if left untreated.

By finding breast cancer early, it is more likely that it can be treated and it may be cured.

Breast screening can lead to a more positive outcome for breast cancer sufferers and can save lives. However, you should also be aware that breast screening can diagnose and treat cancer that would never have become life-threatening.


What age does breast screening start?

The NHS invites women for a mammogram breast screen when they reach 50 years of age, providing they are registered with a GP surgery.

Women are invited for a mammogram breast screen at this age as this is when they usually go through menopause. Mammograms are less reliable before menopause as the breast tissue is denser. Breast tissue changes after menopause and makes mammograms easier to read. Also, women under 50 have a lower risk of breast cancer.

If you are assessed as being at high risk of breast cancer, you will be offered what is called ‘surveillance’ breast screening on the NHS. Surveillance screening is offered at an earlier age than other women. It is also offered more frequently than every three years before you reach 50 years and after 50 it may continue to be more frequent or every three years.

If you are worried about breast cancer and you would like a breast screen before the age of 50 years or more frequently than the NHS offer, you can book this with your local Ramsay hospital.


At what age does breast screening stop?

After the age of 71, you can still have NHS screening every three years. The difference is that you won't automatically be invited.


How often is breast screening performed?

Breast screening on the NHS is automatically offered every three years to women between the age of 50 to 71.

Some women want to have more regular testing such as an annual breast screen. If you would like to have a breast screen in-between your NHS breast screen for peace of mind, then this can conveniently be arranged at your local Ramsay hospital.


Breast Screening at Ramsay Health Care

Ramsay is pleased to offer our patients the latest in breast screening technology as well as rapid access to convenient appointments.

You can read more about our cancer care and treatments here or please get in touch if you’d like to talk to us about any concerns and to book an appointment.

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