Breast Screening (Mammogram)
The NHS Breast Screening Programme began in 1988. It aims to invite all women aged 50 – 70 years for breast screening once every three years.
Nationally the programme screens over 2 million women each year and diagnoses about 16,500 breast cancers annually.
Women over 70 are still entitled to breast screening every 3 years. However, you have to book your own appointments and will not be called. To book call 0203 7582024.
Our local breast screening service is the North London Breast Screening service.
NHS breast screening checks use X-rays to look for cancers that are too small to see or feel.
When you'll be invited for breast screening and who should go
Anyone registered with a GP as female will be invited for NHS breast screening every 3 years between the ages of 50 and 71. You’ll get a letter in the post inviting you.
When you’ll be invited
You’ll automatically get your first invite for breast screening between the ages of 50 and 53. Then you’ll be invited every 3 years until you turn 71.
If you’re a trans man, trans woman or are non-binary you may be invited automatically, or you may need to talk to your GP surgery or call the local breast screening service to ask for an appointment.
You need to be registered with a GP surgery to be invited for breast screening.
If you have not been sent a letter
If you have not been invited for breast screening by the time you are 53 and think you should have been, contact your local breast screening service.
If you are 71 or over
You will not automatically be invited for breast screening if you are 71 or over.
But you can still have breast screening every 3 years if you want to. You will need to call your local breast screening service to ask for an appointment.
If you’re trans or non-binary
If you’re a trans man, trans woman or are non-binary how you are invited will depend on the sex you are registered with at a GP:
- if you’re registered as female with a GP you will automatically be invited for breast screening
- if you’re registered as male with a GP you will not automatically be invited for breast screening
If you have symptoms
See a GP if you have any symptom of breast cancer. Even if you have recently had a clear breast screening.
Do not wait for your next breast screening appointment.
How to decide if you want breast screening
Regular breast screening can find breast cancer before you notice any signs or symptoms.
What breast screening is
Breast screening uses X-rays called mammograms to check your breasts for signs of cancer.
It’s done by female health specialists called mammographers.
Who can get breast cancer
Anyone can get breast cancer. This includes women, men, trans and non-binary people.
It’s the most common type of cancer in the UK.
The chance of getting breast cancer increases as you get older. Most breast cancers are diagnosed in women over 50 years old.
Find out more about:
If you’re more likely to get breast cancer
Some people are more likely to get breast cancer. This is sometimes called moderate risk or high risk.
You may have a higher chance of getting breast cancer if you have:
- several close relatives who have had breast or ovarian cancer or both
- a change in a gene (mutation) that makes you more likely to get breast cancer – these include BRCA1, BRCA2 or TP53
Find out more about predictive genetic tests for cancer risk genes.
What to do if you think you have a higher chance of getting breast cancer
Speak to a GP if you think you might have a higher chance of getting breast cancer.
They can refer you to a genetic specialist who will discuss this with you. You may need to have genetic tests.
Depending on your chance, you may:
- be invited for breast screening before you are 50
- be invited more often than every 3 years
- have MRI scans as well as mammograms – MRI can give a clearer picture in younger people
The specialist looking after you will explain how you will be screened.
How breast screening can help
Regular breast screening is one of the best ways to spot a cancer that is too small to feel or see.
Breast screening saves around 1,300 lives each year in the UK.
Finding cancer early can make it:
- more likely that treatment will be successful
- less likely you’ll need to have a breast removed (mastectomy)
- more likely you’ll be cured
You can have breast screening whatever size or shape your breasts are.
Checking your breasts
As well as going for regular breast screening, it’s important you know how your breasts normally look and feel. Cancers can develop between mammograms.
If you notice any changes in your breasts that are not normal for you, see a GP straightaway.
Find out How should I check my breasts.
Risks of breast screening
Doctors cannot always tell if a cancer will go on to be life-threatening or not. So treatment is always offered if you’re diagnosed with breast cancer.
This means some cancers that are diagnosed and treated would not have been life-threatening. Treatment of non life-threatening cancers is the main risk of breast screening.
Other risks of breast screening include:
- a cancer being missed – mammograms do not always find a cancer that is there
- X-rays – having a mammogram every 3 years for 20 years gives you a very slightly higher chance of getting cancer over your lifetime
Most people feel the benefits of breast screening outweigh the possible risks.
Breast screening is a choice
It’s your choice if you want to go for breast screening. Screening does not stop you getting breast cancer, but it is the best way to spot cancers at an early stage.
If you do not want to be invited for screening, contact a GP or your local breast screening service and ask to be taken off the breast screening list.
You can ask them to put you back on the list at any time if you change your mind.
How to book or change a breast screening appointment
You will be sent an invitation letter in the post when it’s time for you to have breast screening (mammogram).
Booking your appointment
There are 2 ways your breast screening appointment will be booked. Your invitation letter will either:
- ask you to book an appointment by phone, email or sometimes online
- give you a pre-booked appointment and tell you when and where to go for breast screening
Breast screening may be done at a:
- breast screening clinic, often within a hospital
- mobile breast screening unit – these could be in lots of different locations, such as in a supermarket car park
You will usually get instructions on how to find the clinic or screening unit.
If you have not been sent a letter
Contact your local breast screening service if:
- you’ve not been invited for breast screening by the time you are 53 and think you should have been
- it’s been more than 3 years since your last appointment and you think you’re overdue
Things to help screening staff plan your appointment
To make sure your appointment works for you, it may need to be adjusted. This could include having a longer appointment or going to a different location.
To help them plan your appointment, tell the breast screening service if you:
- need additional support to attend screening – for example, if you have a learning disability or difficulties with your mobility (wheelchair access is available at most centres and some mobile units)
- have breast implants – you may need an extra X-ray to get a clearer picture around the implant
- have a pacemaker or another medical device implanted in your body
- are pregnant, think you could be pregnant or are breastfeeding
- are under the care of a breast consultant
- have had a mammogram in the last 6 months
- have had a coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine within the past 5 days – some people may have swollen glands in their armpit which can be picked up by the X-rays
Tell them this when booking your appointment or by calling the screening service if you have been given a pre-booked appointment.
Booking if you are trans or non-binary
You can have breast screening if you:
- were assigned female at birth and have not had top surgery (surgery to remove the breasts and have male chest reconstruction)
- were assigned male at birth and have been taking feminising hormones for longer than 2 years
Find out more about when you’ll be invited for breast screening and who can be screened.
If you are registered as male with a GP, you may not be invited automatically.
If you think you should have breast screening, but you are not invited automatically, talk to your GP surgery, or call or email your local breast screening service to ask for an appointment.
Changing or cancelling an appointment
If you need to change or cancel your appointment, contact the breast screening service you booked your appointment with.
If you were sent a booked appointment, your letter will tell you how to change or cancel your appointment.
What happens at your breast screening appointment
During breast screening you'll have 4 breast X-rays (mammograms), 2 for each breast.
The mammograms are done by a specialist called a mammographer. The mammographer will be female.
The mammograms only take a few minutes. The whole appointment should take about 30 minutes.
Before starting, the mammographer will check your details with you and ask if you have had any breast problems.
They will also explain what will happen during the screening and answer any questions you have.
How breast screening is done
Breast screening is usually done by 1 or 2 female mammographers. You can ask them about any questions or concerns you have.
- You'll need to undress, in a private changing area, so you are naked from the waist up. You may be given a hospital gown to put on.
- You'll be called into the X-ray room and the mammographer will explain what will happen.
- The mammographer will place your breast onto the X-ray machine. It will be squeezed between 2 pieces of plastic to keep it still while the X-rays are taken. This takes a few seconds and you need to stay still. Your breast will be taken off of the machine afterwards.
- The X-ray machine will then be tilted to one side and the process will be repeated on the side of your breast.
- Your other breast will be X-rayed in the same way.
- You will then return to the changing area to get dressed.
Your results will be sent to you in the post.
Breast screening is often uncomfortable and sometimes painful for some people.
You can talk to the mammographer, who is trained to help you feel more comfortable and give you support. You can also ask to stop at any time.
Breast screening if you are trans or non-binary
You may be asked to wait in a waiting room when you arrive. You can talk to the staff if you don't feel comfortable waiting with other people.
Private changing areas are available, so you can get undressed just before the mammogram.
If you wear a binder, you will need to remove this before having a mammogram.
If you have any worries or questions you can:
You can find out more about when you'll be invited and who should go for breast screening.
Things to help your breast screening appointment
You do not need to do anything special to prepare for a mammogram. But there are things that may help.
do not use talcum powder or spray deodorant on the day as this may affect the mammogram – roll-on deodorant is OK
wear a skirt or trousers, rather than a dress, to make it easier to get naked to the waist
remove necklaces and nipple piercings before you arrive for your appointment
tell them if you have found screening uncomfortable in the past
talk to the staff if you are nervous or embarrassed, they are trained to help you feel more comfortable and provide support
ask staff not to use any phrases or words that make you uncomfortable or nervous
tell the staff your pronouns, if you would like to
Things to look out for after breast screening
Any discomfort or pain you may have during a mammogram should go away very soon.
If you found the mammogram very painful you may have pain for a couple of days. See a GP if the pain does not go away after a couple of days.
Your breast screening results
Your breast screening (mammogram) results will be posted to you, usually within 2 weeks of your appointment.
When your result should arrive
You will usually get your results within 2 weeks of your breast screening appointment. They will be sent to you by letter.
They will also be sent to the GP surgery you are registered with.
Rarely you may need to have another mammogram to get a clearer picture of your breasts. Your results would be sent after this second breast screening appointment.
Try not to worry if it takes longer to get your results letter. You can call the breast screening service to see if they have any updates.
It does not mean anything is wrong, and most people will have a normal result.
What your result means
No sign of breast cancer
Your breast screening result letter may say that your mammogram shows no sign of breast cancer.
You will not need any further tests and will be invited again in 3 years.
Most people who have breast screening will have no sign of cancer.
Need further tests
Your results may say further tests are needed. You will be given an appointment.
These tests can include:
- an examination of your breast
- more mammograms
- ultrasound scans of your breast
- taking a small sample (biopsy) from your breast using a needle
You will usually get your results within 1 week.
You may feel anxious about having further tests and what this means. Your letter will tell you how to contact a breast care nurse if you have any questions or would like to discuss the process.
Most people who need further tests will not be diagnosed with breast cancer.
But if there are signs of breast cancer, finding it early means treatment is more likely to be successful and it's less likely you'll need to have a breast removed (mastectomy).
Checking your breasts
Even if your breast screening shows no sign of breast cancer, it's important to check your breasts between mammograms and see a GP if you notice any changes.
Find out How should I check my breasts.