Frequently Asked Questions
I am over 70. Should I still be screened?
The risk of getting breast cancer increases with age. It is still important for women over age 70 to attend for breast screening. If you are over 70 you will not be automatically invited for breast screening. You are encouraged to ask us for an appointment every three years.
To ask for an appointment or to find out when breast screening is next in your area contact your local breast screening centre.
Why don’t we invite women over the age of 70?
All women aged 50 and over are eligible for screening every three years. Currently, we invite women between the ages of 50 and 70 automatically. Women over 70 are screened on request. The chance of having breast cancer continues to rise as we get older.
It is important to understand the difference between arranging a test (for example a mammogram or an ultrasound scan) for an individual and putting in place a screening programme. Although there may be a justification for someone to have a "one-off" test, based on clinical signs and symptoms, that is very different from offering a large population a regular screen. As a national screening programme we follow the advice of the UK National Screening Committee, the Department of Health Advisory Committee for breast cancer screening and the Wales Screening Committee. The advice is based on evidence and trials undertaken in this country and elsewhere.
The criteria for offering any organised population wide screening programme are based on the evidence not just relating to the benefits of the screen but also the harms. The harms include increased anxiety and having tests and operations for an appearance that turns out to be normal or slow growing. Some women have other illnesses which means that they will not benefit from an earlier diagnosis of their breast cancer. For the moment, it is felt that women over the age of 70 should decide for themselves as to whether they wish to ask for an appointment.
At what age will I receive my first invitation?
Women are actually eligible for their first screen in the calendar year in which they become 50. In the UK we invite each general practice in turn over the three year period, so that each woman receives her invitation before the age of 53 but not necessarily in the year she reaches the age of 50. A few women will be 49.
Women invited for the first time at the slightly older age do not 'lose out' in any way. They receive the same number of automatic invitations in the 20 year period (and, of course, can continue to ask to be invited after that).
Does having a mammogram hurt?
Some women find the procedure uncomfortable and a few may find it painful. We need to press to produce good-quality mammograms at a low radiation dose. The pressure will only last for a few seconds. If you do experience pain, it usually only lasts for as long as the procedure takes. In a very small number of women, it may continue for some time.
What does it mean if I am called back?
Sometimes we need to call women back because of a technical fault. We will tell you if this is the reason.
We call back about one in every 20 women that we screen because the appearance on the x-ray suggests that more tests are needed. These tests may include more mammograms, a clinical examination, an ultrasound scan and possibly a needle biopsy. Most of these women will not have any problems and we will call them back again in three years as part of the routine screening process.
What if I need treatment?
If you are diagnosed with breast cancer, finding it early gives the best chance of successful treatment. We fully discuss the options with you and agree arrangements for your treatment.
I have had treatment for breast cancer. Will I still be invited for screening?
The hospital where you are treated will normally give you check-ups for a few years. If you are having mammograms as part of your hospital check-ups you shouldn’t come to Breast Test Wales for breast screening too. However, to make sure that you don’t miss the chance to be screened later on, we will continue to invite you every three years until you are 70. If you receive an appointment that you don’t need, please let us know so that we can give it to someone else.
What happens to my x-rays once they have been checked?
We keep all of your mammograms so that we can:
- compare your latest mammograms with ones you have had before;
- review all screening records, including mammograms;
- train and increase the expertise of our specialist staff; and
- audit the quality of the service we provide.
Staff who work elsewhere in the health service may need to see your records to help with your medical care.
For more information about the records we keep, please see our leaflet 'How we use information about you'.
How accurate is breast screening?
Mammograms are the most efficient way of detecting breast cancer early. Like other screening tests, they are not perfect. For example:
- some cancers are very difficult to see
- some cancers, even though they are there, cannot be seen at all and
- the person reading the x-ray may miss the cancer. This will happen occasionally, no matter how experienced the reader is. We aim to have two specialists check all the mammograms.
What happens if.....
.....I have not accepted previous invitations, can I still come?
Yes, we would like you to come even if you have not been before.
.....I have had mammograms elsewhere?
You may still come, as long as it was more than six months ago. If it was more recent, please contact us.
.....I have a disability?
Please contact us, even if you have been in the past.
.....I have implants, can I still go for screening?
Yes, but it is more difficult for the radiographer to screen you. Please contact us as we may need to change your appointment.
.....I need someone with me?
There is not much space on the mobile units, so please contact us for more information before your appointment.
.....I need to claim travel expenses
If you are on Income Support, you can reclaim your expenses. Please ask us.
.....I need an interpreter?
We can arrange the help of an interpreter. Please let us know at least a week before you come.
.....I would like to know about the radiation dose
Mammography involves a tiny dose of radiation – the risk to your health from this is very small. If you are worried about the examination or have any questions, please ask the radiographer.
More information and support
If you have any questions about the service:
- contact your local Breast Test Wales screening centre
- ask your doctor or
- visit the following websites:
We can supply this information in other languages, in large print, on audio tape or in Braille.