Why is breast screening offered?
Most experts agree that regular breast screening is beneficial in identifying breast cancer early. The earlier the condition is found, the better the chances of surviving it. You’re also less likely to need a mastectomy (breast removal) or chemotherapy if breast cancer is detected at an early stage.
The main risk is that breast screening sometimes picks up cancers that may not have caused any symptoms or become life threatening. You may end up having unnecessary extra tests and treatment.
When will I be offered breast screening?
Beast screening is currently offered to women aged 50, up to their 71st birthday in England. You’ll first be invited for screening within three years of your 50th birthday. You may be eligible for breast screening before the age of 50 if you have a very high risk of developing breast cancer. If you are 71 or over you can self-refer once every three years for screening by contacting your local screening office.
What happens during breast screening?
Breast screening involves having an X-ray (mammogram) at a special clinic or mobile breast screening unit. This is done by a female health practitioner.
Mammograms can show breast cancers at an early stage, when they are too small for you or your doctor to see or feel. A mammogram only takes a short time, it involves a small amount of radiation however the benefits of detecting an early cancer far outweigh any risk involved.
Your breasts will be X-rayed one at a time. The breast is placed on the X-ray machine and gently but firmly compressed with a clear plate. Two X-rays are taken of each breast at different angles.
Where do I go for breast screening?
At this time breast screening appointments will be available at the following locations:
- Mobile units based at Lincoln County Hospital and Pilgrim Hospital, Boston
- Breast Unit, Lincoln County Hospital
- Breast Unit, Pilgrim Hospital, Boston
A mobile unit is also currently based at the Medical Practice, Brookside Close, Ruskington, Sleaford, NG34 9GQ.
Lincoln County Hospital Mobile Map
Pilgrim Hospital Boston Mobile Map
If you have been advised you are due for breast screening you can contact the breast screening office on 01522 573999 or email ulh-tr-BreastScreening@nhs.net to book an appointment.
What exactly happens during breast screening?
Feel free at any time to ask questions. The procedure will be undertaken by a female mammographer. She will firstly confirm your details with you, name, date of birth etc. She will then ask you to undress from the waist up. It is advisable to wear separates. We also ask that you do not use talcum powder or spray-on deodorant on the day you go for breast screening as this may show on the mammogram and give a false reading. The mammographer will explain mammography to you and will ask you a few questions, for example, have you ever had a mammogram before, have you ever had any breast problems, do you currently have any breast problems. Mammography only takes a few minutes and your breasts are only pressed between the two plates for a few seconds each. There is no evidence that this procedure harms the breast.
Does mammography hurt?
Some women may find mammography uncomfortable and some find it painful as the breasts have to be held firmly in position and pressed to take a good x-ray. If you do experience pain it usually only lasts for as long as the mammogram, although it may continue for some in a small number of women. You have the right at any stage of the examination to ask the mammographer to stop the procedure.
Who reads the mammogram?
Your mammogram is read twice, by a combination of two consultant radiologists (a senior doctor highly trained in the reading of x-rays) or a consultant radiologist and a consultant mammographer or a specially trained radiographer film reader. There are occasions when these specialists decide that your mammogram cannot be read because it is not of high enough technical quality. You will be sent a letter explaining this and you will be asked to attend again for repeat x-rays. This does not mean that there is anything wrong with you but simply that a better quality image is required.
Breast screening results
After your breasts have been X-rayed, the mammogram will be checked for any abnormalities.
The results of the mammogram will be sent to you and your GP no later than two weeks after your appointment.
Following screening, about 1 in 25 women will be called back for further assessment.
Being called back doesn’t mean you definitely have cancer. The first mammogram may have been unclear.
About 1 in 4 women who are called back for further assessment are diagnosed with breast cancer.
What happens if I have had mammograms taken elsewhere in the past?
Your mammographer will ask you if you have ever had previous mammograms. If you have then every effort will be made to locate these x-rays prior to your films being reported so that comparisons can be made between the x-rays. Therefore, if you are able to give us accurate information on where and when you had mammograms taken this will speed up the process of locating them.
What does it mean if I am called back to an assessment clinic (second stage screening)?
Some women are called back because the appearance of the x-ray suggests that more tests are needed. You will be invited to a specialist breast screening assessment clinic at the Lincoln County Hospital. You will be sent an appointment letter with a date, time and venue asking you to attend for second stage screening. This letter will also offer you the telephone number of a breast care nurse should you require any further information regarding why you have been recalled. If the appointment date, time or venue is not convenient all you have to do is ring the screening office on 01522 573999 to alter your appointment.
A recall appointment is a common occurrence and most ladies that have further checks can be reassured that their breasts are normal. They will be discharged from the assessment process and we will call them back again in three years’ time as part of the routine screening process.
When you attend for an assessment appointment it is nice for someone to be with you, but not essential. Further tests will be carried out which may consist of any, or all, of the following: mammography (x-rays), ultrasound and needle biopsy tests. In the majority of ladies these tests will have provided all the information necessary to conclude your assessment visit. However, on occasions you may be asked to attend on another day for further tests to be carried out.
What if I need treatment?
If you are recalled and subsequently require treatment a specialist team will look after you. They will make sure that you get a high quality of care and treatment at all times.
How reliable is breast screening?
Mammography is the most reliable way of detecting breast cancer early, but like other screening tests, it is not perfect. For example:
- Some cancers are very difficult to see on the x-ray
- Some cancers, even though they are there, cannot be seen on the x-ray at all
- The person reading the x-ray may miss the cancer (this will happen occasionally, no matter how experienced the reader is)
Does breast screening prevent breast cancer?
No, breast screening only helps find breast cancer if it is already there. You should be aware of any changes in your breasts because breast cancer can develop at any time. Some women will develop breast cancer before their first mammogram or between mammograms.
What happens to your x-rays after screening?
Our breast screening service will keep your analogue mammograms for at least eight years, longer if necessary. By 2015 United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust (ULHT) had replaced all its analogue mammography equipment with new state of the art digital mammography x-ray units. Digital mammograms are retained indefinitely. We can compare your latest mammogram with the previous ones you have had.
There is a simple five-point breast awareness code that all women should remember:
- Know what is normal for you
- Look at and feel your breasts
- Know what changes to look for (lumps, pain, discharge from the nipple or anything else unusual)
- Tell your doctor about any changes immediately
- Go for breast screening every three years if you are over 50
There are many reasons for changes in your breasts. Most of them are harmless but you should get any changes checked.
Dr Mujahid Kamal, Director of Breast Screening
Miss Heather Tod, Breast Modality Lead
Ms Alysa Page, Breast Screening Programme Manager
Lincolnshire Breast Screening Service
Lincoln County Hospital
Lincoln LN2 5QY
Tel: 01522 573999
The screening office opening hours are Monday to Friday, 8am to 4pm.
Text Message Reminders
Our service offers a text message appointment reminder service. If you wish to receive a text message reminder regarding your appointment we will require your mobile telephone number. Please contact us to provide us with your details. If we have your mobile telephone number as a point of contact but do not wish to receive text messages please let us know and we can note this in your information.
More breast screening information can be found on the NHS website.