Screening process

Consent and invitation

Each woman is initially sent an information leaflet explaining the BreastCheck service and a letter seeking her consent to invite her for an appointment.

If the woman does not wish to avail of this service, she should convey this decision in writing within three weeks of receiving the consent letter.

The woman does not need to do anything if she does wish to participate in the programme. BreastCheck will send her an appointment letter in due course.

These consent letters and invitations are only issued when a particular area is being screened (based on electoral areas).

Women will receive a routine recall to screening on a two yearly cycle.

All screening units are fully accessible to people with disabilities. BreastCheck ask that a woman advises in advance if special needs are to be accommodated.

The screening appointment

Depending on where she lives, each woman will either be invited to a Screening Unit or Mobile Unit.

On arrival for a mammogram, a radiographer asks the woman about any clinical details or history of breast disease. The radiographer answers any questions, explains what will happen and carries out the mammogram.

The dose of radiation used is very small and within recommended limits.

The mammogram

The mammogram involves each breast placed in turn between two plates and compressed to get the best possible image. This may feel uncomfortable. Research has shown that for most women it is less painful than having a blood test and is comparable with having blood pressure measured. Some however, feel short-lived pain. The whole visit takes approximately half an hour. The dose of radiation used is small and within recommended guidelines.

The results

The mammograms are examined by two Consultant Radiologists and the results sent to the woman’s home within three weeks. A copy will also be sent to her GP.

Normal Result: The majority of women receive a ‘normal’ result and will be reinvited for routine screening in two years time.

Abnormal Result: A small number of women will be asked to return for another mammogram. Please don't worry. About one in 20 women who receive a BreastCheck mamogram is called called back for more tests. In some cases this recall may be for technical reasons, i.e. if the image is not clear enough. Most women are given normal results following the tests. A small number of women will require further investigation.

Further investigation

An assessment clinic takes place at the nearest Screening Unit. Generally these investigations include further mammograms and may include an ultrasound, fine needle aspiration of breast cells/fluid or a core biopsy performed by a consultant for laboratory analysis in order to make a diagnosis.
- Information about breast localisation and surgery (.pdf file 149 KB, 2 pages - A4 format)
- Information about core biopsy and fine needle aspiration (.pdf file 122 KB, 2 pages - A4 format)

Routine re-call

Most women are given the all-clear after further investigation and are reinvited for further routine screening on a two yearly cycle.

What happens if cancer is found?

If a woman is found to have cancer, she is seen by a consultant surgeon who is part of the multidisciplinary team in the assessment unit for a discussion of treatment options available. This is essential before making any decisions on surgery.

Is there anyone to talk to?

The assessment unit has a Breast Care Nurse who is available to give advice and help women during investigations through to diagnosis and up to primary treatment.


This usually involves some form of surgery, followed by radiotherapy, chemotherapy, or hormone therapy – or a mixture of these. The exact course of treatment depends on the type of cancer found and the woman.

Screening Process Flow Sheet
BreastCheck timescales for the seven stages of the screening programme

The seven stages in the screening process