In the UK there is a national programme aimed at reducing the number of deaths from breast cancer. The NHS national screening programme invites all women aged between 50 and 64. You do not need to be referred by your doctor to be screened. The service is for women who have no symptoms of breast cancer and is free of charge.
The automatic invitation system is slowly being changed, to include women up to 70 years old. At the moment, if you are 65 or over you can still go for breast screening but you will not be invited automatically. You will have to ask your GP or screening unit to keep inviting you.
Why should I go for breast cancer screening?
Breast cancer is the most common cause of cancer death in women. One in eleven women will develop breast cancer at some time in their life. Breast screening saves about 1,250 lives each year in the UK. All women over 50 are strongly recommended to go for breast screening every three years. For a woman in this age group, regular breast screening can reduce her chance of dying from breast cancer (by about 40%). For women over 50, breast screening is the best way to detect cancer at an early stage, which is when treatment can be more effective.
What is breast cancer?
Cancer begins when the body's cells change and increase in number, often to form a lump. If the cancer is not removed or controlled, the abnormal cells can spread and may eventually cause death. Most breast lumps are not cancerous and are usually harmless (benign).
Breast cancer is most common in the cells that line the specialised breast tissue and can spread to the lymph glands, the bones and to other parts of the body.
Am I At Risk Of Developing Breast Cancer?
The cause of breast cancer is not known. Below are some things that can increase your risk of developing breast cancer:
* Age: The risk of developing breast cancer increases with age. Most breast cancers (about 70%) occur in women who are over 50. For women under 50, there is no firm evidence that breast screening is effective.
* Family history: Women who have a close relative who has had breast cancer at a young age (under 50) may be at an increased risk of developing the disease. However, less than 1 in 10 breast cancers may be linked to family history.
* Diet: There is a higher risk of breast cancer in women who drink alcohol. There may also be a link with high levels of fat in the diet, and obesity.
How Do You Screen For Breast Cancer?
The test used in breast cancer screening is called a mammogram. A mammogram is a low-dose X-ray of the breast. They can show breast cancers at an early stage, when they are too small for you or your doctor to see or feel. The mammogram only takes a few minutes and your whole visit to the breast screening unit will take about half an hour.
What Happens During The Test?
You will be asked to take off your top and bra. The woman taking your mammogram will press first one, then your other breast between two special plates and take the X-rays. Most women find the test uncomfortable and a few find it painful. If you do have any pain it will only last a few seconds whilst your breast is held in the machine.
How Reliable Are Mammograms?
Regular mammograms are the best way of finding breast cancer early, before there are any signs or symptoms. Mammograms do show up most breast cancers, but like many other medical tests, they are not perfect. Sometimes the person looking at the X-ray can misinterpret it and some cancers, even though they are there, can not be seen on the X-ray at all.
Finding breast cancers early is important because it gives you a better chance of successful treatment and recovery.
Does Breast Screening Prevent Breast Cancer?
No. Some women will develop breast cancer before their first test or even between mammograms.
You should be breast aware as well as having a mammogram. If you notice any changes in your breasts, such as a lump, pain, discharge from the nipple or anything which looks unusual, see your GP as soon as possible.
Breast awareness is not instead of a mammogram. Mammograms show changes that are too small for you or your GP to feel. Breast awareness and regular mammograms together offer you the best change of detecting disease early.
Breast Awareness Five-Point Code
There Is A Simple Five-Point Code That All Women Should Remember:
* Know what is normal for you
* Look at and feel your breasts
* Know what changes to look for
* Tell your GP about any changes without delay
* Go for breast screening every three years if you are over 50.
When Will I Get My Results?
Your results will usually be sent to you and your GP within two weeks of you having had the test. Most women will have no signs of cancer.
Some women will be asked to have more tests because their first test suggests they need further investigation. Nine out of ten of those women prove to be normal.
As with all screening tests, some women will be recalled because there is something spotted that eventually turns out not to be a problem after all. This is worrying for the women involved, but if the screening process did not recall them, some other women who do have cancer might be missed.
What If Breast Cancer Is Found?
A small number of women will need specialist treatment because a cancer is found. These women will be given information and support to help them choose the best treatment for them.
What Happens To My X-rays After They Have Been Read?
The breast screening unit has to keep your mammogram X-rays for at least eight years so that they can be compared with your other mammograms.
As part of our aim to offer you a quality service, all our records including mammograms are reviewed. Should such a review, on rare occasions, mean a change to your care you will be contacted.
To help you make the decision whether or not to come for breast screening the main advantages and disadvantages of having screening for breast cancer are explained below.
Advantages Of Breast Cancer Screening:
* Breast screening reduces the risk of dying from breast cancer in the women who attend.
* Breast screening is estimated to save about 1,250 lives per year in this country.
* Around half the cancers found at screening are still small enough to allow breast saving surgery.
* Most breast cancers are found at an early stage when there is a good chance of a successful recovery.
Disadvantages Of Breast Cancer Screening:
* Not all breast cancers present will be found at screening.
* Not all breast cancers found at screening can be cured.
* Some women will have investigations for abnormalities found at screening which prove not to be cancer.
* One in five cancers found will still be within the milk duct. It is not certain that all of these would ever spread to the surrounding breast tissue and there is uncertainty about what the appropriate treatment is. This is called ductal carcinoma in situ (dcis).
1. Breast Cancer Care
Address: Kiln House, 210 New Kings Road, London, SW6 4NZ
Telephone: 0207 384 2984
Fax: 0207 384 3387
Helpline: 0808 800 6000
Website URL: www.breastcancercare.org.uk
2. The National Cancer Screening Programme
Address: The Manor House, 260 Ecclesall Road South, Sheffield, S11 9PS
Telephone: 0114 2711 060
Website URL: www.cancerscreening.nhs.uk