Supporting people with learning disabilities: breast screening

Being invited for breast screening

Breast screening (mammography/mammogram) is an x-ray examination of the breasts. It can detect breast cancer even before there are any obvious signs or symptoms. The sooner breast cancer is diagnosed the more effective treatment is likely to be.

Find out more about breast screening >>

Going for a mammogram

Women may go to a mobile unit or to a screening centre for their mammogram. Most screening units are happy for women with learning disabilities to visit the centre and the room where the mammogram is done before the actual appointment.

Contact them to arrange a time to do this. Once there, ask the radiographer to show you both how the x-ray machine works and how the person’s body needs to be positioned. If the person you support needs extra help with getting into position, you can both discuss the options with the radiographer at the same time.

Women talking

The person you support needs to know that they will have to take off their top and bra when they have their mammogram. It should be explained that the radiographer will need to touch their breasts to put them in the right position, and that their breasts may feel quite uncomfortable during the mammogram but this will only last a short while.

Most screening units send out detailed information about having a mammogram with the invitation letter. Some screening units have information specifically for women with learning disabilities, which you may both find helpful – contact them to find out.

Following the mammogram, a letter will be sent from the screening unit that will either ask the person you support to come back again for further investigation or say that they will be invited again in three years’ time. Going for breast screening will not prevent breast cancer from occurring, so it’s still important for them to be breast aware between their screening appointments and always go back to the doctor if there are any further worries or questions.

Finding your local screening unit

Your GP (local doctor) surgery can provide you with the contact details of your local breast screening unit or you can look this up online:

In some breast screening clinics in England the age range has been extended to invite women from 47–73 years as part of a trial.

View our PDF about what happens at a breast clinic.

If you would like to order a hard copy version of this PDF, email publications@breastcancercare.org.uk

You can also download our PDF Your breasts, your health – supporting people with learning disabilities

Further reading

  • Books beyond words tell stories in pictures to help people with learning difficulties explore and understand their own experiences.
  • Easyhealth Links to information for people with learning disabilities.
  • The easy read health Wales website provides people with learning disabilities and their families with easy to read information on a wide variety of topics on health and well-being.
  • NHS Fife Going for a mammogram DVD – for women with learning disabilities.

Other organisations

  • Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities works with people with learning disabilities, their families and the people who support them.
  • Family Advice and Information Resource is an information and advice service for people with learning disabilities, parents, carers and people who work with them in Edinburgh.
  • Mencap provides information and advice for people with a learning disability, families and carers in the UK.
  • NHS Wales: Breast Test Wales. For women with a learning disability who would like to familiarise themselves with the equipment, staff and surroundings prior to being screened, special appointment arrangements can be made. To discuss the screening invitation visit the website for local unit contact details.
Last reviewed: March 2017
Next planned review begins 2018

Let us know what you think

Please note that we cannot respond to comments. If you have any questions about breast cancer please contact the Helpline on 0808 800 6000.

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