Breast Screening


Many of the women we spoke with knew that the NHS breast screening programme would invite them for screening around the age of 50. The NHS Breast Screening Programme is phasing in an extension of the age range of women eligible for breast screening to those aged 47 to 73 from 2010. Most women said it was important to attend breast screening because if there were any breast problems, they would be detected and treated early. Several women had discussed breast screening with friends or family. Some had heard that mammogram could be painful, but this didn't put them off.

Women's knowledge about breast screening and cancer varied. Some wanted more detailed information than was contained in the leaflet that came with their screening invitation. Those working in the health field tended to have access to a lot of information. Others said they knew that breast cancer was common. Many stressed the importance of being screened and being breast aware.

Several women had come across information on breast screening and cancer through the media. Some knew that breast cancer is no longer the frightening disease it was many years ago, thanks to improvements in treatment. Another said that mistakes with mammogram results were sometimes made and these featured in the news more than the positive developments. Several women noted that, while stories in the media helped raise awareness about breast screening and cancer, some articles were also often sensationalised or unreliable.

Friends, colleagues and family members who'd been for screening or had breast cancer were often an important source of information. The internet was also a popular source, as were books and magazines. Several women said that information on the internet could be confusing, frightening or off-putting. Some women knew where they could pick up leaflets but didn't want information about breast cancer unless they were diagnosed with it. Others said that too much information could be frightening. One woman read more about breast screening after she'd had her first mammogram in case the information made her anxious beforehand. Another was very worried before her first screen in case cancer was detected, and wanted more information about breast cancer and screening.

Some women said that if they had any concerns about breast cancer or screening, they'd ask their GPs.

Some British Chinese women said that information about breast screening had been translated for them, but they would have liked more information on breast cancer and screening in Cantonese. Information on breast screening is now available in other languages from the NHS Breast Screening Programme. One of these women sometimes visited a Chinese herbalist when she had any health problems as she was deterred from visiting her GP because of language barriers.

Several women said that they knew how common breast cancer was in the UK but they'd never heard of ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), an early form of breast cancer. A few women with DCIS felt that the current NHS breast screening leaflet didn't give enough information to women about the benefits, harms, limitations and consequences of breast screening.

Some women with breast cancer said they could get all the information they needed about it from their doctors and breast care nurses or friends who were health professionals. Others supplemented this with information from books, the internet, breast cancer charities and support groups. The experiences of others who'd had breast cancer was often very important, whether these were found on the internet, through books or by talking to other patients (see our Breast Cancer information).

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Last reviewed March 2016.

Last updated February 2013.


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