In the UK, women between 50 and 70 are invited for breast screening every three years as part of a national breast screening programme. At your appointment, you will have a test called a mammogram (a breast x-ray) to look for cancer that may be too small to see or feel. The sooner breast cancer is diagnosed, the more effective treatment is likely to be.

If you have any questions or concerns about breast screening you can call our free Helpline on 0808 800 6000.

Being recalled following screening

Something that may look unusual on your mammogram may be entirely normal for you, and most women who are recalled for assessment will not have breast cancer. You may find it useful to read our information on being referred to a breast clinic.

Listen to a discussion with one of our nurses about breast screening.

What happens at a routine breast screening appointment?

Your mammogram will usually take place at a breast screening unit, but in some areas you'll be invited to a mobile unit. A female practitioner will take your mammogram. The clinic will let you know how you will get your results. Learn more about having a mammogram.

Who is invited for screening?  

To be invited for screening you have to be registered with a GP (local doctor). The screening service takes the names from your GP’s list at regular set times and you’ll be sent an appointment to come for a mammogram. This may not happen the year you turn 50, but it will happen by the time you are 53.

Women under 50 are not invited for routine breast screening. This is because the number of women who get breast cancer is much lower in this age group: 81% of breast cancers occur in women over the age of 50 and the risk continues to increase with age. Also, younger women’s breast tissue can be dense, which can make the x-ray image less clear. This makes normal changes, benign breast conditions and cancer harder to find.

If you’re over 70 you won’t be sent an invitation for screening. However, you can continue to have breast screening every three years if you ask for it. Your GP’s surgery can put you in touch with your local breast screening unit or you can look them up online. Find out about screening in Scotland, Wales, England and Northern Ireland.

Age extension screening trial

In England some breast screening centres are taking part in an age extension trial where the age range has been extended to invite a number of women before the age of 50 (47–49) and after the age of 70 (71–73) years to see if it would be beneficial to extend the age range for all women in the future. 

Breast screening for women with a significant family history

Having someone in your family with breast cancer doesn’t always mean your own risk is increased. However, a small number of women have an increased risk of breast cancer because of their significant family history and may be offered breast screening earlier and more frequently.  

Find out about breast cancer in families and screening for people at increased risk.

Why have breast screening?  

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the UK, affecting 1 in 8 women during their lifetime. The number of people diagnosed each year is rising. However, death (mortality) from breast cancer is falling. This is because of a number of factors such as earlier diagnosis, improved and newer treatments and patients taking part in clinical trials. It may also be due to breast screening. Find out more about the benefits and risks of breast screening.

Last reviewed: September 2016
Next planned review begins shortly

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