Family Planning - Breast Screening

What is breast screening?

As part of the NHS Breast Screening Programme all women in the UK aged between 50 and 70 years are routinely invited every three years to have a test to look for very early breast cancer.

It is a rolling programme; therefore women from different GP practices are invited in turn. This means that not all women receive an invitation for screening as soon as they are 50.  However, each woman should receive her first invitation before her 53rd birthday.

The government is now extending the age range for routine breast screening to include women from age 47 to 73. This has started in some areas and the plan is for full nationwide rollout by 2016.  For Lion Health the extension programme will begin for women aged 70-73 starting from the 11th August 2014 at the Health and Social Care Centre in Brierley Hill, Dudley.

For those under the age of 50, routine breast screening is not currently available unless there is a history of:

  • breast cancer in the past
  • a first-degree relative who has had breast cancer at a young age
  • having a gene which increases the risk of breast cancer, such as genes called BRCA1, BRCA2 and TP53

For those over 70 years, breast screening is still available every three years, however an appointment needs to be requested by contacting your local breast screening unit.  The local centre for Lion Health is:


Dudley & Wolverhampton Breast Screening Service

Breast Screening Office, X-Ray Department

Russells Hall Hospital




Telephone: 01384 244 177


The importance of breast screening

Around 1 in 8 women will develop breast cancer at some point in their life.  It most commonly affects women over the age of 50 years. Breast screening aims to detect breast cancer at an early stage, before symptoms or signs, such as a lump, develop.  When breast cancer is found early, it is more likely that breast-conserving surgery will be possible, avoiding a mastectomy.  There is also a greater chance of surviving the breast cancer in the long term.  Around a third of breast cancers are diagnosed through screening.  An independent review in the UK in 2012 concluded that breast screening does save lives.  It showed that if 10,000 women were screened from when they are 50 to when they are 70, around 43 deaths would be prevented.  This would mean screening prevents about 1,300 deaths every year in the UK.  A 2013 international review (Cochrane review) concluded that for 2,000 women screened for 10 years, one will avoid dying of breast cancer.


How is breast screening done?

An x-ray of each breast, called a mammogram, is taken while carefully compressing the breast. Most women find it a bit uncomfortable and a few find it painful. The mammogram can detect small changes in breast tissue, which may indicate cancers that are too small to be felt either by the woman herself or by a doctor.

Over the past few years, the NHS Breast Screening Programme has been converting to digital mammography systems.  This uses computer imaging instead of conventional XR film. There are several advantages, such as; images can be produced more quickly, be read straight away, they can easily be stored and retrieved on computer systems, as well as be manipulated to see subtle differences in the breast tissue.  As of October 2013, 99% per cent of breast screening units have at least one digital mammography set, and 86% of services are fully digital.



Most women have a normal test result. About 4 in 100 women are asked to attend again for more detailed tests, either because the X-ray picture is not clear, or to look more closely at a particular area of the breast. Only 1 of the 4 women recalled actually have cancer. In the rest, the abnormalities that are detected in the screening test turn out to be harmless.  If it does turn out to be cancer, it is likely to be an early cancer when there is a good chance of successful treatment.


Breast awareness

It is important to get to know how your breasts and nipples normally look and feel, and any changes that occur before and after your periods.  Some women may have developed breast cancer before they have their first mammogram and some may develop breast cancer between mammograms.  Therefore all women of every age should remain breast aware and see their GP if any changes, lumps, or other abnormalities in the breasts or nipples are noticed.