Breast Screening

What is breast screening?

Breast screening uses X-rays called mammograms to check your breasts for signs of cancer.  It’s done by female health specialists called mammographers.

Who can get breast cancer?

Anyone can get breast cancer, this includes women, men, trans and non-binary people.

It’s the most common type of cancer in the UK.

The chance of getting breast cancer increases as you get older.  Most breast cancers are diagnosed in women over 50 years old.

Find out more:

Some people are more likely to get breast cancer.  This is sometimes called moderate risk or high risk.

You may have a higher chance of getting breast cancer if you have:

  • several close relatives who have had breast or ovarian cancer or both
  • a change in a gene (mutation) that makes you more likely to get breast cancer – these include BRCA1, BRCA2 or TP53

Find out more about predictive genetic tests for cancer risk genes

How breast screening can help

Regular breast screening is one of the best ways to spot a cancer that is too small to feel or see.

Breast screening saves around 1,300 lives each year in the UK.

Finding cancer early can make it:

  • more likely that treatment will be successful
  • less likely you’ll need to have a breast removed
  • more likely that you’ll be cured

You can have breast screening whatever size or shape your breasts are.

Checking your breasts

As well as going for regular breast screening, it’s important you know how your breasts normally look and feel.  Cancers can develop between mammograms.

If you notice any changes in your breasts that are not normal for you, you should see a GP straightaway.

Find out How should I check my breasts

Risks of breast cancer

Doctors cannot always tell if a cancer will go on to be life-threatening or not, so treatment is always offered if you’re diagnosed with breast cancer.

This means some cancers that are diagnosed and treated would not have been life-threatening. Treatment of non-life-threatening cancers is the main risk of breast screening.

Other risks of breast screening include:

  • a cancer being missed – mammograms do not always find a cancer that is there
  • x-rays – having a mammogram every 3 years for 20 years gives you a very slightly higher chance of getting cancer over your lifetime

Most people feel the benefits of breast screening outweigh the possible risks.

For more information: GOV.UK: Breast screening: helping women decide

Breast screening is a choice

It’s your choice if you want to go for breast screening.  Screening does not stop you getting breast cancer, but it is the best way to spot cancers at an early stage.

If you do not want to be invited for screening, contact your GP or your local breast screening service and ask to be taken off the breast screening list.

If you change your mind at any time, you can ask them to put you back on the list.

When you’ll be invited

Anyone registered with a GP surgery as female will be invited for NHS breast screening every 3 years between the ages of 50 and 71.

You’ll automatically get your first invitation through the post for breast screening between the ages of 50 and 53.  You’ll then be invited every 3 years until you turn 71.

If you’re a trans man, trans woman or are non-binary, you may be invited automatically, however if not, in order to get an appointment you can:

  • talk to your GP surgery
  • call the local breast screening service

If you are 71 or over

You will not automatically be invited for breast screening if you are 71 or over.

But you can still have breast screening every 3 years if you want to. You will need to call your local breast screening service to ask for an appointment.

If you are trans or non-binary

If you are a trans man, trans woman or are non-binary, how you are invited will depend on the sex you are registered with at your GP:

  • if you’re registered as female with your GP you will automatically be invited for breast screening
  • if you’re registered as male with your GP you will not automatically be invited for breast screening

More information:

What to do if you were assigned female at birth

If you’ve not had top surgery (surgery to remove the breasts and have male chest reconstruction), you can have breast screening.

If you’ve had top surgery, you may still have some breast tissue, but it’s unlikely you will be able to have a mammogram.  Talk to your GP if you notice any changes in your breast tissue or notice any symptoms of breast cancer.

Booking your appointment

There are two ways your breast screening appointment will be booked. Your invitation letter will either:

  • ask you to book an appointment by phone, e-mail or online
  • give you a pre-booked appointment and tell you when and where to go for breast screening

Breast screening may be done at:

  • a breast screening clinic, often within a hospital
  • a mobile breast screening unit – these could be in lots of different locations, such as in a supermarket car park

You will usually receive instructions on how to find the clinic or screening unit.

Try to book your appointment as soon as you get invited.

Important – If you missed an appointment

If you were invited for breast screening but missed it or did not book an appointment, you can contact your local NHS breast screening service to book now.

You can still book even if you were invited weeks or months ago.

If you have not received a letter

Contact your local breast screening service if:

  • you’ve not been invited for breast screening by the time you are 53 and think you should have been.
  • It’s been more than 3 years since your last appointment, and you think you’re overdue

If you have symptoms

If you have any  symptom of breast cancer you should see a GP, even if  you have recently had a clear breast screening.

Do not wait for your next breast screening appointment.

More information for people with a learning disability: Macmillan Cancer Support: Breast care for women

What happens at your breast screening appointment?

During breast screening you’ll have 4 breast X-rays (mammograms), 2 for each breast.

The mammograms only take a few minutes.  The whole appointment should only take about 30 minutes.

Before starting, the mammographer will check your details with you and ask if you have had any breast problems.

They will also explain what will happen during the screening and answer any questions you may have.

How breast screening is done

Breast screening is usually done by 1 or 2 female mammographers.  You can ask them about any questions or concerns you have.

  • You’ll need to undress in a private changing area, so you are naked from the waist up. You may be given a hospital gown to put on
  • You’ll be called into the X-ray room and the mammographer will explain what will happen
  • The mammographer will place your breast onto the X-ray machine. It will be squeezed between 2 pieces of plastic to keep it still while the X-rays are taken.  This takes a few seconds and you will need to stay still.  Your breast will then be taken off of the machine once the X-rays are  complete
  • The X-ray machine will then be tilted to one side and the process will be repeated on the side of your breast
  • Your other breast will then be X-rayed in the same way
  • You will then return to the changing area to get dressed
  • Your results will be sent to you in the post
  • Important – Breast screening if often uncomfortable and sometimes painful for some people. You can talk to the mammographer, who is trained to help you feel more comfortable and give you support and you can ask to stop at any time

Breast screening if you are trans or non-binary

You may be asked to wait in a waiting room when you arrive.  You can talk to the staff if you don’t feel comfortable waiting with other people.

Private changing areas are available so you can get undressed just before the mammogram.

If you wear a binder, you will need to remove this before having your mammogram

If you have any worries or questions, you can:

Things to help your breast screening appointment

You do not need to do anything special to prepare for a mammogram, but there are some things that may help.


  • Use talcum powder or spray deodorant on the day as this may affect the mammogram – roll-on deodorant is OK


  • Wear a skirt or trousers, rather than a dress, to make it easier to get naked to the waist
  • Remove necklaces and nipple piercings before you arrive for your appointment
  • Tell the mammographer if you have found screening uncomfortable in the past
  • Talk to the staff if you are nervous or embarrassed. They are trained to help you feel more comfortable and provide support
  • Ask staff not to use any phrases or words that may make you feel uncomfortable or nervous
  • Tell the staff your pronouns if you would like to

Things to look out for after breast screening

Any discomfort or pain you may have during a mammogram should go away very soon.

If you found the mammogram very painful, you may have pain for a couple of days.  See a GP if the pain does not go away after a couple of days.

Your breast screening results

Your breast screening (mammogram) results will be posted to you usually within 2 weeks of your appointment.

A copy of your results will also be sent to your GP.

Whilst it is rare, you may need to have another mammogram to get a clearer picture of your breasts.  Your results will be sent after this second breast screening appointment.

Important: Try not to worry of it takes longer to receive your results letter.  You can call the breast screening service to see if they have any updates.  A delay doesn’t always mean there is anything wrong and most people will have a normal result.

What your result means

No sign of breast cancer

Your breast screening result letter may say that your mammogram shows no sign of breast cancer.

You will not need any further tests and will be invited again in 3 years.

Most people who have breast screening will have no sign of cancer.

Need further tests

Your results may say further tests are required and you will therefore be given a further appointment.

These tests can include:

  • An examination of your breast(s)
  • More mammograms
  • Ultrasound scans of your breast(s)
  • Taking a small sample (biopsy) from your breast using a needle

You will usually receive your results within approximately 1 week.

You may feel anxious about having further tests and what this means for you.  Your letter will tell you how to contact a breast care nurse if you have any questions or would like to discuss the process.

Most people who need further tests will not be diagnosed with breast cancer.

But, if there are signs of breast cancer, finding it early means treatment is more likely to be successful and it’s less likely you’ll need to have a breast removed (mastectomy).

Information: Macmillan Cancer Support has a free helpline that’s open every day from 8am to 8pm.  Call: 0808 808 00 00

They’re there to listen if you have anything you want to talk about.

Checking your breasts

Even if your breast screening shows no sign of breast cancer, it’s important to check your breasts between mammograms and see a GP if you notice any changes.

Find out How should I check my breasts