The Screening Journey

 The screening journey consists initially of four elements:

  1. Invitation to screening
  2. Screening test
  3. Normal result
  4. Routine re-call in three years' time

All women registered with a GP will receive their first invitation to have a mammogram between their 50th and 53rd birthdays.  Outside Belfast most breast screening is provided on mobile breast screening units. These visit a number of different sites throughout Northern Ireland . In Belfast women are invited to attend the screening unit at Linenhall Street.

A visit to a breast screening unit usually takes about 30 minutes. You will be met and welcomed by a receptionist or a female radiographer who will check your personal details (name, age and address). The radiographer will ask you some questions about your general health and whether you have had any previous breast problems.

The radiographer will explain how the mammograms are taken, and can answer any questions that you have about breast screening.

taking a mammogram

Courtesy National Cancer Institute

A mammogram, which is simply a low-dose x-ray of the breast tissue, is able to detect breast cancers at an early stage and long before there would be any symptoms. You will need to undress from the top part of your body, including your bra. Therefore it may be easier to wear a skirt or trousers instead of a dress.

The radiographer will then position you so that each breast is placed in turn on the x-ray machine and gently but firmly compressed (squashed) with a flat, clear, plastic plate. The breast tissue needs to be compressed to keep the breast still and to get the clearest picture with the lowest amount of radiation possible. This can be uncomfortable and for some women it can be slightly painful. However, you need only stay still for less than a minute. Usually each breast will have two mammograms taken from different angles.

You and your GP should receive the results of your mammogram| in writing within two weeks. If you do not hear anything by this time, you can phone your breast screening unit and ask them to check your results.

96 out of every 100 women will have a normal result and will not need to be screened again for another three years.  In the meantime it is important to remember that you can develop breast cancer at any time. This includes the time in between breast screening appointments.  Our leaflet Breast awareness:  Looking out for changes provides more information.  If you find any changes in your breasts see your GP without delay. He or she may wish to refer you to a symptomatic breast clinic.

About 4 in every 100 women are asked to come back to an assessment clinic for more tests after screening.  This is because something was noticed on the mammogram (breast X-ray) which requires further tests.  These can include another mammogram, an ultrasound scan of the breast and breast biopsy.  It is important to remember that this does not necessarily mean that there is something wrong and 3 out of 4 women who are asked to attend the assessment clinic will be found not to have cancer.  Women who have normal test results following attendance at the assessment clinic will be invited for routine screening again in 3 years’ time.