Breast screening is a test for breast cancers that are too small to see or feel.
Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women. About 1,000 women die of breast cancer every year in Scotland.
Breast screening doesn't prevent cancer, but can detect cancer early and reduce the number of women who die from it.
Breast screening has resumed in Scotland. However, it will take time to fully restore the service and there are new measures in place to keep you and our staff safe.
While breast screening begins again, it’s important to be symptom aware. Phone your GP if you notice any changes to your breasts, such as a lump or swelling in your breast or armpit or changes in your nipple.
In Scotland, only women between the ages of 50 and 70 are offered breast screening every 3 years.
This is because:
the chance of developing breast cancer increases with age
the test is most effective in women who've reached the menopause
Due to COVID-19 impact, the option for women over 70 years old to self-refer has been paused. This is only temporary and is so we can prioritise those who had their appointments delayed. We’re reviewing this regularly in line with clinical need. Further updates will be provided in due course.
It’s important that everyone is aware of the signs and symptoms of cancer, and to report any concerns you have to your GP.
As with any test, there are benefits and risks involved in breast screening. It’s important that you’re aware of these before accepting a screening invitation.
Breast screening can find breast cancer before any symptoms become noticeable. The earlier breast cancer is found, the less treatment is needed and the better your chance of survival.
In Scotland, screening prevents around 130 deaths from breast cancer each year.
Screening saves lives from breast cancer, but it does have some risks:
some women will be diagnosed and treated for breast cancer that wouldn't otherwise have been found or caused them harm
a small number of cancers may not show up on the breast X-ray (mammogram)
It’s important that you repeat the screening test every 3 years. And regularly check your breasts for any changes that could indicate breast cancer — like a lump or swelling in your breasts or armpits, or changes in your nipple.
The X-rays used in breast screening can cause breast cancer, but this is rare.
For every 14,000 woman screened regularly for 10 years, 1 woman may develop breast cancer because of this radiation.
Taking the test
The breast screening test involves taking images of your breasts using X-rays (mammogram) and checking them for changes.
The breast screening test is done by female health professionals only.
You'll have the test at your nearest breast screening centre, or mobile screening unit. Your appointment will usually take no more than 30 minutes.
Before the test
When you arrive for your appointment, the mammographer will check your details and explain the test to you. You'll have an opportunity to ask questions.
You should wear a loose fitting top as the mammographer will ask you to undress from the waist up. You can cover up when you're not having the mammogram.
You shouldn't use talcum powder or spray deodorant before the test.
During the test
Your mammographer will X-ray one breast at a time. To do this she'll:
position your breast between 2 special plates on the mammogram machine
press the breast firmly between the plates for a few seconds
take 2 pictures of each breast — you should stay as still as possible while she takes the pictures
Most women who take the test have a negative result, which means:
no changes were found in their breasts
there’s no signs of breast cancer
If this is the case:
you won’t need any further investigations or treatment
you'll be invited to be screened again within 3 year
If you notice any changes in your breasts before your next screening appointment, contact your GP.
About 7 out of 100 women who take the test have a positive result. This means the test found changes in the breast that need investigating.
If you have a positive result, the screening centre will invite you for further tests. This can include:
a breast examination
an ultrasound scan
Some women will also need to have a tissue sample taken for testing. This is called a biopsy.
Positive for breast cancer
The results of these tests can lead to a breast cancer diagnosis. If you test positive for breast cancer, your GP will refer you to a team of breast cancer specialists for treatment.
Only 1 in 5 women that have further tests will have breast cancer.
If your mammogram isn't clear or of a good enough quality, they'll arrange an appointment for you to have further X-rays. This is called a technical recall, and can happen if breast tissue was missed or moved during the test.
If you're unsure about anything or have questions about breast screening, phone: