Breast Screening

Invasive breast cancer

The incidence of breast cancer increases with age: 8 out of 10 cases occur in women aged 50 or over (NHS Choices 2015). Most breast cancers are discovered by the woman herself. Women may have breast symptoms such as a lump, pain or changes in the nipple. Some cancers are found on the mammogram which is often taken as part of the NHS Breast Screening Programme. For some women we spoke with, their invasive breast cancer was discovered in this way. Mammography can detect small cancers that neither the woman herself nor a doctor can feel. Many women had had no symptoms and wouldn't have known anything was wrong if they hadn't been screened

The NHS Breast Screening Programme invites women routinely every three years after the age of 50. Some women attending for their first mammogram were referred to a breast clinic for further tests and these showed breast cancer. One woman said that her first mammogram found 'suspicious tissue' that needed closer examination, which showed breast cancer. Another, whose breast cancer was found after her second routine mammogram, discussed getting the results and her treatment.

One woman (before the lowering of the screening age) decided to have a mammogram done privately at the age of 47 because a colleague had recently been diagnosed with breast cancer. She was recalled for further tests, which showed breast cancer.

Women who aren't in the national screening age group and who have a close relative with breast cancer can ask their doctors whether they should have regular screening before the age of 47. One younger woman with such a family history had had annual mammograms since the age of 34. After her third mammogram, she was recalled for further tests and her biopsy showed a cancer. Another woman with a similar history had had mammograms before the age of 50 and took part in medical research on breast cancer. The research involved having a mammogram, which showed cancer. She was then advised about different treatment options.

One younger woman had her first mammogram whilst on holiday in the United States. She'd had a gynaecological problem and the doctor treating her routinely screened women over the age of 35. She was surprised to be recalled for further tests and shocked when told she had breast cancer (see 'Breast screening and younger women').

One woman had an early form of breast cancer (Ductal carcinoma in situ - DCIS) which was found in a routine mammogram. After having the affected area of her breast removed, she had regular check-ups at the hospital. In one of these, a mammogram showed she had cancer in the other breast. Soon afterwards she developed a lump in her armpit and worried that the cancer might have spread. However, it turned out to be non-Hodgkin lymphoma (a type of cancer of the lymphatic system).

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The earlier that breast cancer is diagnosed and treated, the better the long-term prospects are for women with the disease. Many women have a choice about the treatment they receive depending on the type and location of their cancer. On our breast cancer section, women with breast cancer talk about the different treatments they had, the impact the disease had on them and others around them, and what it is like to live with breast cancer.

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Last reviewed March 2016.

Last updated March 2016.


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