Breast screening

Detecting breast cancer and other breast conditions early gives the best chance of successful treatment. The Northern Ireland Breast Screening Programme provides free breast screening every three years for all women aged between 50 and 70.

Arranging a breast screen

Women aged 50 to 70 who are registered with a GP, are invited for breast screening every three years. Your local screening centre or health and social care trust should contact you and arrange an appointment.

Women over 70 are not automatically invited for screening but are encouraged to make their own appointment by contacting their local screening centre.

You can download the breast screening leaflet from the Public Health Agency website:

What screening involves

Breast screening is a way of detecting breast cancer at a very early stage. In the early stages, breast cancer may not have symptoms.

The first step involves an x-ray of each breast – a mammogram – which is taken while carefully compressing the breast.

The mammogram can detect small changes in breast tissue which may show cancers that are too small to be felt either by the woman herself or by a doctor.

About four in every 100 women are asked to come back for more tests after a mammogram. Out of these four women, one will be found to have cancer. The rest will not have cancer and will go back to having screening invitations every three years.

If you are called back for more tests, you may have a breast examination, more mammograms and ultrasound scans. You may also have a biopsy, which is when a small sample is taken from your breast with a needle to be checked under a microscope. You will usually get your results within one week.

More information on what to expect if you are called back for a second visit can be found in the leaflet at this link:

If tests show no abnormality then you will be given the leaflet at the link below:

Information video

A video showing what to expect when attending for breast screening has been produced by the Public Health Agency. It covers the whole process – from receiving the invitation letter to getting the results.

You can see the video at this link:

  • Breast screening information film (Public Health Agency website)

Breast screening for women at higher risk of breast cancer

Women at higher risk of breast cancer are now being offered breast screening at an earlier age than women from the general population. This is called surveillance screening.

Higher risk is defined as eight times the normal risk and applies to women with one of the following genetic mutations:

  • BRCA1
  • BRCA2
  • TP53
  • ataxia-telangiectasia (A-T) homozygotes
  • ataxia-telangiectasia (A-T) heterozygotes

Or because you had radiotherapy that included your breasts in the treatment area (supradiaphragmatic radiotherapy) before the age of 30.

Most women will be offered surveillance screening annually. A small number of women will require less frequent screening than this. You will be offered mammography, MRI, or both, depending on your age and the reason for your higher risk of breast cancer.

Your specialist may already have let you know what type of screening you can expect to have and how often you need to be screened

You can get more information by clicking on the link below.

Attending screening if you have breast implants

A standard mammogram may be less effective if a woman has a breast implant, and therefore women are advised to go to their local screening centre rather than a mobile unit.

More useful links

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