Frequently asked questions (FAQ)

  1. Why screen for breast cancer?
  2. Why am I being invited?
  3. What is a mammogram?
  4. Will it hurt?
  5. How safe is a mammogram?
  6. Where is the screening done?
  7. My company would like to organise breast screening for our employees. Can we have a BreastCheck mobile unit visit our workplace?
  8. Can I walk into a BreastCheck unit and request a mammogram?
  9. How long will this take?
  10. What clothes do I need to wear?
  11. Will I be seen by female screening staff?
  12. When will I get my results?
  13. What sort of results might I expect?
  14. What if I had breast cancer in the past - Do I go for screening?
  15. What if I had a mammogram within the last year?
  16. What if I have had breast implants or breast reduction in the past?
  17. How often will I be screened?
  18. Who invites me?
  19. Why was I not invited?
  20. How can I register?
  21. Can I change my appointment?
  22. Will my special needs be accommodated?
  23. Why not screen women under 50 years?
  24. Why not screen women over 64 Years?
  25. What effect does HRT have on mammography?
  26. What are the guidelines for women with familial breast cancer?
  27. How are interval cancers handled?
  28. What further investigations may be required following a 'Not Normal' mammogram?
  29. What if a woman has clinical symptoms?
  30. What about breast self-examination/breast awareness?

Informative leaflets are available for download at the foot of this page.

Answers

Q1. Why screen for breast cancer?

At present the best way to reduce the number of deaths from breast cancer is to find it at an early stage, preferably before it can be felt.

Q2. Why am I being invited?

Breast cancer cannot be prevented so the aim is to detect it as early as possible. Early detection of breast cancer and appropriate treatment gives the best outcome. In time, all women aged 50 to 69 years known to BreastCheck will be invited to attend for a mammogram in the targeted area on a two yearly basis.

Q3. What is a mammogram?

It is a low dose x-ray used to take pictures of the breast. Each breast is x-rayed from the side and from the top by a professionally trained radiographer. Screening mammograms are performed on a routine basis on women to detect breast cancer at an early stage, before it can be felt by a woman or her doctor.

Q4. Will it hurt?

Maybe, but only for a very short time while each breast is held firmly in position as the x-ray is taken, just enough so the breast tissue can be seen on the mammogram. Pressing your breasts for a few seconds is not harmful and minimises the x-ray dose.

Q5. How safe is a mammogram?

Since it uses very low-dose radiation, it is thought to be quite safe. The benefit of being screened outweighs any risk from the x-ray.

Q6. Where is the screening done?

Depending on where you live, it will be carried out at the screening unit or mobile unit nearest your home.

Q7. My company would like to organise breast screening for our employees. Can we have a BreastCheck mobile unit visit our workplace?

BreastCheck mobile units are situated in a specific location when BreastCheck is screening in that area. BreastCheck mobile units do not visit workplaces. However the BreastCheck Screening Promotion team regularly visit workplaces to promote the BreastCheck Programme. If you would like to arrange a visit to your workplace please email Screening.Promotion@screeningservice.ie.

Q8. Can I walk into a BreastCheck unit and request a mammogram?

BreastCheck operates on an appointment basis. It is not a drop in service.

Q9. How long will this take?

It usually takes about half an hour.

Q10. What clothes do I need to wear?

Since you will have to undress your upper body, it is a good idea to wear a skirt or trousers and a top.

Q11. Will I be seen by female screening staff?

Currently all radiographers are female.

Q12. When will I get my results?

You will get your results within three weeks of having the test done. It will be sent to your home address. Your doctor will receive a copy of your result.

Q13. What sort of results might I expect?

The most likely result is ‘normal’ in which case you will be invited to attend for a routine repeat mammogram in two years.

However, some mammograms need to be looked at again to get a clearer image or because some part of the breast needs closer examination. Should this happen you will be asked to attend an Assessment Clinic. In the vast majority of cases these further examinations are normal.

Q14. What if I had breast cancer in the past - do I go for screening?

If you have had breast cancer, it is national policy to have a mammogram every year. This mammogram is provided free of charge, through the symptomatic breast service. The hospital or cancer centre that provided your surgery or treatment will organise your follow-up care, including your annual mammogram.

If the hospital that provided your treatment is no longer providing breast cancer services, or you are unsure where your current follow-up-care is being provided, please contact your GP (family doctor) who can refer you to the nearest symptomatic breast service. If you are not receiving any follow-up care, please contact your GP to arrange.

Q15. What if I had a mammogram within the last year?

Contact the programme at 1800 45 45 55 and we will advise you. BreastCheck does not screen women twice within a 12-month period. Therefore, if you have been screened in the last 12 months, you should wait until 12 months have passed since the last mammogram and then contact the programme.

Q16. What if I have had breast implants or breast reduction in the past?

You are still invited for your routine screening mammogram. Please advise us in advance if you have had breast implants so that additional time can be provided for the screening appointment.

Q17. How often will I be screened?

You will be invited to come back for screening on a two yearly cycle until you reach 65. If you find anything unusual with your breasts at any time or you have any concern you should go to your doctor.

Q18. Who invites me?

A population register (list) has been compiled from a number of sources, principally data from General Medical Services (GMS) Scheme, the Department of Social and Family Affairs and private insurance companies. (BreastCheck is allowed to source this information under The Health [Provision of Information Act] 1997. ) As this may not include all women, you are encouraged to check you are on the BreastCheck register. You will be sent a letter seeking your consent with an information leaflet explaining the screening programme. Then you will be offered an appointment to attend for a mammogram.

Q19. Why was I not invited?

- You may be eligible but your name is not on the register
- Screening in your area has not yet commenced
- You are under the age of 50
- You are over the age of 65.

Q20. How can I register?

Self-registration is an important part of BreastCheck as the register is incomplete.

You can check on-line if you are on the register or by calling freephone 1800 45 45 55.

Women can self-register by returning a registration form to BreastCheck. These forms are
available on request from BreastCheck and also at GP surgeries, pharmacies and other
community settings.

Women can also register on-line

Q21. Can I change my appointment?

If you cannot keep the appointment that has been arranged for you and wish a different date or time, please telephone your screening unit directly and try to give at least two days notice. The telephone number is given on your invitation letter.

Q22. Will my special needs be accommodated?

All BreastCheck screening units are fully accessible to people with disability. Women should advise in advance if special needs are to be accommodated.

Q23. Why not screen women under 50 years?

Because of the lower prevalence of breast cancer in women under 50, the density of breast tissue in this age group (more dense pre-menopause) and the limits of mammography screening, it is not currently considered effective to offer screening in this age group.

However, mammography has a role to play in diagnosis for younger women who are symptomatic. These women should be referred to a symptomatic unit by their GP.

Q24. Why not screen women over 64 years?

The incidence of breast cancer is highest in women aged over 50. BreastCheck is extending over the next six years and by the end of 2021, the programme will be available to all women aged 50 to 69.  

Q25. What effect does HRT have on mammography?

The same guidelines for mammography apply whether a woman is, or is not, on HRT. However, HRT may make the breasts appear more dense and mammograms may be more difficult to interpret.

Q26. What are the guidelines for women with familial breast cancer?

About five per cent of breast cancers are due to an inherited susceptibility. Features of familial breast cancer include: several family members from the same side of the family affected; cancers at a younger age than usual; association with ovarian cancer; two primary cancers in the same person; and male breast cancer. More than 98 per cent of women in Ireland will not have a genetic mutation that predisposes them to breast cancer.

Information about who is eligible for testing. The needs of these women who may be affected are not addressed by BreastCheck, as screening for these individuals may need to begin at an earlier age.  There are two groups of women involved – those who have been diagnosed with cancer and those who have a family member who has been found to carry a gene mutation.

Who is eligible for testing?

Testing for mutations in genes, such as BRCA 1 or BRCA 2, begins with a patient who has been diagnosed with breast or ovarian cancer. Her treating consultant will offer a referral for testing when appropriate, according to guidance from the National Centre for Medical Genetics. Cancer genetics services are currently located in the National Centre for Medical Genetics (in Crumlin, or one of its outreach clinics), St James’s Hospital and the Mater Hospital. It is important that a woman is counselled as to the implications of a genetic test before she is tested (including options for surveillance or surgery if positive).

Only if the test result is positive, her close relatives will be offered testing for the specific gene fault identified. Again, they will be counselled by a cancer genetics expert in advance of having the test done.

Who does not need testing?

Note that accurate predictive breast cancer genetic testing on a healthy woman with a family history of breast cancer is not clinically recommended, unless a specific gene alteration has been identified in an affected family member.

The role of the Symptomatic Breast Clinics in the Designated Cancer Centres:

Any well woman for whom there is a concern of increased risk of breast cancer based on her family history can be referred to the Symptomatic Breast Clinic in one of the Designated Cancer Centres where a decision will be made on her risk and her need for surveillance.

Useful Reference:

The UK National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence ‘Familial breast cancer: quick reference guide’ provides guidance on the classification of a woman’s risk according to her family history.

Again, the features which raise suspicion are: several family members from the same side of the family affected; cancers at a younger age than usual; association with ovarian cancer; two primary cancers in the same person; and male breast cancer.

Q27. How are interval cancers handled?

Mammography does not prevent breast cancer. Its purpose is to diagnose radiologically detectable cancer at an early stage before it is clinically detectable. A small proportion of breast cancers are not detected by mammography. By going for regular screening it means that if there are changes they will be found as early as possible.

It is also important for the Quality Assurance of the screening programme that all cases of interval cancers are reported.

Q28. What further investigations may be required following a ‘Not Normal' mammogram?

It is necessary that women with abnormal mammograms are appropriately assessed and treated with the minimum of delay. All women called for Further Assessment attend one of the clinical screening units where a multidisciplinary team will evaluate screen-detected abnormalities. Diagnostic techniques include clinical examination, additional mammography, ultrasound and possibly fine needle aspiration cytology. Only a small number of women will need to proceed to needle or surgical biopsy.

If a woman does not wish to attend a BreastCheck clinical unit she should be referred urgently, in the ordinary way, to the specialist of her choice. At the same time it is crucial that BreastCheck is informed so that all necessary information can be passed on.

Q29. What if a woman has clinical symptoms?

One of the consequences of the breast screening programme is an increased awareness of breast symptoms amongst women. It is not appropriate for GPs to refer symptomatic women for screening by BreastCheck. As a rule, women who have clinical symptoms must have clinical examination by their GP and may then be referred for further treatment to the symptomatic breast cancer services

Q30. What about breast self-examination/breast awareness?

There is no evidence that routine monthly breast self-examination following a set technique reduces the mortality from breast cancer. Paradoxically, most breast cancers are found by women themselves. It is therefore suggested that this casual detection can be optimised by encouraging breast awareness.

Breast awareness is about knowing what is normal for the individual woman and the variations that occur throughout the cycle. Women are then encouraged to report any variation from the normal promptly to their GP.

For a variety of reasons, many women choose not to examine their own breasts. GPs need to be sensitive to this and be careful not to provoke guilt in those who do not do so.


Brochures / Leaflets:

Information About Your Breast Screening Appointment - (November 2007)
Download Leaflet: About Your BreastCheck Appointment (.pdf file 228 Kb, 2 pages - A4 format)
Download Irish version: Faoi scagthástáil cíoch (.pdf file 54 KB, 4 pages - A4 format)
Download pictorial version of leaflet About Breast Screening Pictorial (.pdf file 1.1 MB, 6 pages - A4 format)

About Breast Screening - (November 2007)
Download leaflet: About Breast Screening (.pdf file 859 Kb, 2 pages - A4 format)
Download Irish version: Faoi do choinne BreastCheck (.pdf file 197KB, 4 pages - A4 format)

Make Time For Your Breast Health - (November 2007)
Download leaflet (English Version): Make Time for Your Breast Health (.pdf file 292 Kb)
Download Irish version: Bíodh am agat do do shláinte bhrollaigh (.pdf 483KB , 1 page - A4 format)