If you’ve been referred to a breast clinic by your GP (local doctor) or if you’ve been recalled following routine breast screening, it is natural to feel anxious or worried.
The vast majority of people who are seen at a breast clinic will not have breast cancer. However, it’s still important to attend your breast clinic appointment so you can be fully assessed.
Find out more below about why you might have been referred to a breast clinic by your GP or recalled following routine screening, and how long you will wait for an appointment. You can also learn more about routine breast screening.
What will happen at the breast clinic?
Your breast clinic appointment may take several hours so that all the necessary tests can be carried out. You will usually have a breast examination, followed by one or more of the following tests:
Being referred to a breast clinic might make you feel anxious, so you may want to take a partner, friend or relative with you for company and support.
You may be asked to fill in a short questionnaire before you are seen by a doctor or specialist nurse. This will include 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 when you are sitting and when you are lying down. As part of the examination, it’s normal to examine the lymph nodes (also called glands) under your arm (axilla) and around your neck.
You may then need to have further tests, which might include a mammogram, ultrasound scan, core biopsy and/or fine needle aspiration (FNA). The order in which the tests are done will vary between clinics.
Having a breast examination, breast imaging (for example, a mammogram and/or an ultrasound scan) and tissue sampling (for example, a core biopsy or FNA) is known as a triple assessment. This may be necessary to make a definite diagnosis. However, not everyone will need to have a triple assessment.
When will I get my results?
Your assessment may be done in a one-stop clinic. This is where all of these tests are carried out during your visit to the clinic with the results available later that day. In some areas, you might be asked to make another appointment to finish your tests or to get your results. If this happens, you may have to wait about a week for your test results.
Find out more about getting your results.
About four women in a hundred are called back to a breast clinic following routine screening because they need more tests. This happens more often after a woman’s first mammogram, usually because there are no other mammograms to compare with. 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.
If you’ve been recalled to a breast clinic after a routine mammogram as part of a national breast screening programme, you should receive a letter within two weeks of your mammogram explaining when your breast clinic appointment will be.
GPs follow national guidance when deciding whether or not to refer you to a breast clinic. The guidance outlines how quickly a person should be seen depending on their symptoms.
If you have any queries about the waiting time for your appointment, talk to your GP. You can also find more information in our booklet Know your breasts: a guide to breast awareness and screening.
Call our Helpline
If you’ve been referred to a breast clinic, it is natural to feel worried or frightened that you have breast cancer. If you want to talk things through or have a question about breast health or breast cancer, email our nurses. You can also order our free booklet Your breast clinic appointment.
View the PDF below for a simple illustrated summary of what happens at a breast clinic.