Breast screening - an overview

Breast screening is offered to women aged 50 -70. Screening involves taking mammograms (x-rays of your breast) to detect breast cancer. The earlier breast cancer is detected, the better the chances of successful treatment. Breast cancer can occur at any age but risk increases with age.

Northern Ireland Breast Screening Programme

The Northern Ireland Breast Screening Programme is for women who have no signs or symptoms of breast disease. Women aged 50-70 who are registered with a GP are invited every three years.

You may not receive an invite for screening in the year you turn 50, but should receive one before your 53rd birthday.

If you are registered with a GP and the practice has your correct details, then you will automatically receive an invitation. You don't need to contact anyone but it is important your GP has your correct details.

If you turn 50 in the year that your GP practice is called for screening you may be invited before you turn 50.

Checks are also made to identify women who have moved into the area or who are overdue screening. These women are offered an appointment to attend for screening. You can contact the local screening unit if you think you are due a mammogram.

If you are over 70 you will stop receiving screening invitations.

You can still have breast screening once you are over 70 if you want to. You can arrange an appointment by contacting your local screening unit.

Screening is carried out in many locations across Northern Ireland. You will be sent an appointment in the post. If your appointment date, time or location don’t suit, you can ask for a new appointment by contacting your screening unit

If you do not attend your first appointment a second appointment will be offered. If you fail to attend this appointment you will be invited again in three years’ time.

The screening programme does not operate on a walk-in basis. If you are concerned about your breast health you should contact your GP immediately.

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Does breast screening prevent breast cancer?

Breast screening does not prevent breast cancer. It helps detect breast cancer at an early stage when treatment may be more successful.

Breast cancer can develop at any time and some women can develop it between screening visits. You should check your breasts regularly for any changes. If you have any concerns contact your GP, even if you have had a recent mammogram.

Breast screening locations

Breast screening is carried out at both static and mobile units throughout Northern Ireland.

Breast screening process and getting your results

Breast screening usually takes less than 30 minutes and is carried out by a mammographer (a mammographer is a radiographer).

You and your GP should get your screening results within two weeks. If you don’t hear anything by this time, you can phone your breast screening unit to find out about your results.

If your result is normal, it will be three years until your next screening appointment.

Getting called back after screening results

Some women (about 4 in 100) are called back to the breast screening unit after their first mammogram for further tests.  This does not necessarily mean there’s something wrong - 3 out of 4 women recalled have normal results after these further tests.

Self-examination between appointments

Breast cancer can develop between screening visits so it’s important to check your breasts regularly for changes. You should become familiar with how your breasts normally look and feel so you can detect changes. 

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