Breast Screening

Reasons for attending breast screening

The National Health Service Breast Screening Programme (NHSBSP) was set up in 1988. Women between the ages of 47 and 73 are now routinely invited for free screening every three years. NHS Breast Screening is for all well women without symptoms, whether they have a family history of breast cancer or not. Women over 73 are encouraged to make their own appointments.

Most women accept their invitation for screening. Many whom we spoke with attended because they wanted any breast problem to be detected and treated early, before it became more serious. Most felt that breast screening benefited women because the sooner breast cancer was found and treated, the greater the chances of recovery. Knowing that breast cancer is common and that its incidence increases with age encouraged many women to be screened.

Some women went for breast screening because they wanted reassurance that they were well and didn't have breast cancer. One felt that women should be made aware that, if they were not screened, breast cancer could be developing in their bodies without them knowing about it.

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One person said that women shouldn't be put off by the embarrassment of having to undress to the waist. Others said that the pain or discomfort of mammograms shouldn't deter women from attending because these are short-lived and the benefits far outweigh any discomfort. Some also felt the benefits of early detection were much more important than any small risks associated with x-rays.

Some women said they liked to do whatever they could to look after their health. This included going for regular dental check-ups and cervical screening (smear tests) as well as mammograms. Breast screening was seen as one of several important aspects of health care. A 75-year-old woman, who had gone for screening since the NHS Breast Screening Programme was introduced, said she liked to take responsibility for her own health and breast screening helped her to feel she was doing all she could to look after herself (see 'Breast screening after age 70').

Several women, who'd had benign breast conditions when younger, said that these experiences had made them more aware of breast problems and the importance of being screened. A few women felt that three yearly screens were too infrequent.

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One woman had attended breast screening purely out of curiosity - she felt fit, healthy and didn't believe she was at risk of developing breast cancer. She suggested that the NHS breast screening leaflet should say more about the risk factors associated with breast cancer and different kinds of breast cancers (see 'DCIS'). Another attended because she believed that every woman was potentially at risk of breast cancer. She felt that finding a lump would be much more worrying than going for screening, where any problems would be detected early.

For some women, friends or colleagues being diagnosed with breast cancer underlined the importance for them of going for screening. One of these women said she chose to have a mammogram done privately before screening age rather than wait for her first NHS invitation as she felt that being screened was too important to wait up to three years. Another woman was from a family of health professionals and said she'd never questioned whether or not to go for breast screening.

Some women went for breast screening before the age of 50 because they had a family history of breast cancer. A few took part in medical research on breast screening, which included having regular mammograms before they were 50. Many women we spoke to were grateful for the opportunity to be routinely screened every three years.

Last reviewed March 2016.

Last updated March 2016.

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