Breast cancer screening

About 1 in 8 women in the UK are diagnosed with breast cancer during their lifetime. If it's detected early, treatment is more successful and there's a good chance of recovery.

Breast screening aims to find breast cancers early. It uses an X-ray test called a mammogram that can spot cancers when they're too small to see or feel.

But there are some risks of breast cancer screening that you should be aware of.

As the likelihood of getting breast cancer increases with age, all women aged from 50 to their 71st birthday who are registered with a GP are automatically invited for breast cancer screening every 3 years.

In the meantime, if you're worried about breast cancer symptoms, such as a lump or an area of thickened tissue in a breast, or you notice that your breasts look or feel different from what's normal for you, do not wait to be offered screening, see a GP.

Coronavirus update

Breast cancer screening services are now running.

You may be prioritised if:

  • you’ve been told you’re at very high risk of getting breast cancer
  • you need more tests after your last screening
  • you’ve been invited for screening, but you’ve not had your appointment yet
  • you’re 53 or over and have never had a screening invitation
  • you’re over 70 but have not had a final invitation for screening
  • you’re between 50 and 71 and are due your routine screening

Contact your GP surgery as soon as possible online or by phone if you think you may have symptoms of breast cancer.

It’s important to go to your appointment unless you or someone you live with has symptoms of coronavirus. All NHS services are making sure it's safe for you to attend.

Why is breast screening offered?

Most experts agree that regular breast screening is beneficial in identifying breast cancer early.

The earlier the condition is found, the better the chances of surviving it.

You're also less likely to need to have your breast removed (a mastectomy) or chemotherapy if breast cancer is detected at an early stage.

The main risk is that breast screening sometimes picks up cancers that may not have caused any symptoms or become life threatening.

You may end up having unnecessary extra tests and treatment.

Find out more about the pros and cons of breast cancer screening

When will I be offered breast screening?

Breast screening is offered to women aged 50 to their 71st birthday in England.

You'll first be invited for screening between the ages of 50 and 53.

You may be eligible for breast screening before the age of 50 if you have a very high risk of developing breast cancer.

Find out more about having a family history of breast cancer

If you're 71 or over, you'll stop receiving screening invitations. But you can still ask to have breast screening.

Find breast screening units in your area

What happens during breast screening?

Breast screening involves having an X-ray (mammogram) at a special clinic or mobile breast screening unit. This is done by a female health practitioner.

Your breasts will be X-rayed 1 at a time.

The breast is placed on the X-ray machine and gently but firmly compressed with a clear plate.

Two X-rays are taken of each breast at different angles.

Find out more about what happens during breast cancer screening

Breast screening results

After your breasts have been X-rayed, the mammogram will be checked for any abnormalities.

The results of the mammogram will be sent to you and your GP no later than 2 weeks after your appointment.

After screening, about 1 in 25 women will be called back for further assessment.

Being called back does not mean you definitely have cancer. The first mammogram may have been unclear.

About 1 in 4 women who are called back for further assessment are diagnosed with breast cancer.

Find out more about understanding your results

More information about breast cancer screening

For more information, the Breast Cancer Screening Programme has guides about:

The GOV.UK website also has breast cancer screening leaflets in other languages.