The aim of the programme is to reduce the number of deaths from breast cancer. This is achieved by women being offered and attending for regular mammograms (breast x-ray). Mammograms can detect small changes in breast tissue which may indicate cancers which are too small to be felt either by the woman herself or by a doctor.
Women are invited and offered breast screening from the ages of 50 to 70. Women may not be offered screening as soon as they become 50 but will be invited for their first mammogram before they reach 53. Women are thereafter invited for breast screening every three years up to the age of 70. Women over 70 will not be sent an appointment but can remain in the programme by ‘self referring’ and contacting their local breast screening service.
Women under 50 are not currently offered routine screening. Research has shown that routine screening in the 40 to 50 age group is less effective. As a woman goes through the menopause the glandular tissue in her breast "involutes", that is to say, the proportion of fat in her breast increases. This makes the mammogram easier to interpret.
It is important to note that women of any age can ask their GP to refer them to a hospital breast clinic if they are concerned about a specific breast problem or otherwise worried about the risk of breast cancer. Although this is not part of the NHS Breast Screening Programme, the same techniques are used in both breast screening units and hospital breast clinics for diagnosing breast cancer and many staff work in both settings.
Breast Screening in Suffolk is provided by Ipswich Hospital for the residents of East Suffolk and by West Suffolk Hospital for the residents who live in the west of the county.
To get the most from the breast screening programme it is important that women attend for screening when they receive their personal invitation. It is also important that tell their doctor whenever they move, this ensures that the invitation letters go to the correct address.
For more information on either breast screening or cervical screening go to www.cancerscreening.nhs.uk
East Suffolk Breast Screening Service
Tel.: 01473 703344
West Suffolk Breast Screening Service
Tel.: 01284 713941
NHS breast screening