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Referral to a breast clinic

You may be referred to a breast clinic by your GP, or you may be called back to a breast assessment clinic following routine breast screening.

In either case, you may feel worried or frightened that you might have breast cancer.

It’s normal to feel anxious and this can show itself in many ways. Your daily routine or eating or sleeping pattern may be affected. You may feel overwhelmed with worry, especially while you’re waiting for your appointment. You’ll probably develop your own way of coping during this uncertain time, perhaps by talking to family, friends or your GP, or by keeping yourself busy.

Although these feelings are likely to continue until you get your results, the vast majority of people who are seen at a breast clinic don’t have breast cancer.

Referred by your GP

Your GP will usually refer you to a breast clinic if you have a new change in your breast. This could be a definite lump, puckering or dimpling of the skin over the breast, changes to your nipple including a rash or discharge, or severe and persistent breast pain.

National guidelines say how soon someone should be seen after being referred to a breast clinic.

  • In England: everyone referred to a specialist with breast symptoms should be seen within two weeks of referral by a GP.
  • In Wales: anyone suspected of having cancer should be seen within 10 working days after referral to a specialist.  
  • In Scotland and Northern Ireland: anyone suspected of having breast cancer should be referred to a specialist breast clinic promptly, ideally within two weeks.

Recalled to a breast assessment clinic after routine screening

About four in a hundred women are called back to a  breast assessment clinic for more tests following routine screening. This happens more often after a woman’s first mammogram, usually because there are no other mammograms to compare with.

You shouldn’t have to wait longer than three weeks between your mammogram and your breast clinic appointment.

Something that may look ‘unusual’ on your mammogram may be entirely normal for you, and most women who are recalled for assessment don’t have breast cancer.

What will happen at the clinic?

Your visit to the breast clinic may take several hours so that all the necessary tests can be carried out. The order in which the tests are done will vary between clinics.

You may want to take a friend or relative with you for company or support. However, they won’t usually be allowed in areas such as x-ray rooms.

A doctor or specialist nurse experienced in diagnosing and treating breast problems will usually see you first. You may be asked to fill in a short questionnaire including questions about any family history of breast problems, any medication you’re taking, including hormone replacement therapy (HRT) or the contraceptive pill, or any previous breast surgery (including breast implants).

This will be followed by a breast examination, where the doctor or nurse will check both your breasts. The examination involves looking at and feeling both breasts when you are sitting and when you are lying down. As part of the examination, it’s usual to examine the lymph nodes (glands) under your arm.

You may then need to have further tests. These will usually include one or more of the following:

  • mammogram (breast x-ray)
  • ultrasound scan
  • fine needle aspiration (FNA)
  • core biopsy.

Not everyone will have an FNA or core biopsy. It depends on your symptoms or the findings from your mammogram and/or ultrasound scan.

For details of what these tests involve and getting your results, read our information about mammograms and other tests.  

Content last review January 2014; next planned review 2016

Last edited:

14 February 2014