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A note on terms:
Everyone has breast tissue and people of all genders can get breast cancer. To be clear and consistent, we use the word ‘breasts’ in our health information, rather than boobs, pecs or chest. When we say breasts, we mean the tissue from your rib cage up to your collarbone and armpits, including your nipples.
Who is invited?
Breast screening uses image scans to look for breast cancer. Breast screening could be by one of two scans:
The national screening programme in the UK uses mammogram, a type of x-ray, to scan women aged 50 – 71. Women in that age group are invited to be scanned every 3 years. It is rare for men to have breast cancer, so they are not invited to be screened as part of a national screening programme.
Why don’t we screen women under 50?
Women with a high risk of breast cancer can be screened at any age. However, low-risk women under 50 are not invited to be screened as part of the national screening programme. This is because the risks of screening women under 50 would outweigh the benefits. X-ray exposes you to a tiny amount of radiation, and any exposure to radiation can very slightly increase your risk of cancer. Mammograms of young women are also more difficult to read, as their breast tissue is denser. Women under 50 would need more frequent scans, so they would have more exposure to radiation.
It is important to get to know your breasts and chest area whether you are screened or not. Make sure you know what is normal for you and your body. If you notice any unusual changes, make an appointment to see your GP, even if you have a scan appointment coming up.
A mammogram is an x-ray of the breast. When you go for a mammogram, a female staff member (mammographer) will be in the room with you. The mammographer will tell you to undress to the waist and stand in front of the mammogram machine. She will help to position you so she can take the best scan of your breast. You will have a scan of one breast first, and then the other breast. Some people find mammograms slightly uncomfortable, but it is over very quickly! You can still have a mammogram if you have breast implants, just let your mammographer know before your scan.
If you are a woman under 50 and you are high risk, or if you are referred to the breast clinic, you will most likely have an ultrasound scan. Ultrasound is painless. It is a good scan for looking at young breast tissue. That’s because young breast tissue is denser than breast tissue in older people. You can learn more about dense breasts here. For the ultrasound, you will be asked to undress to the waist and sit or lie down on a couch. The doctor will put some clear gel on your breast and armpit, and then move the handheld scanner all over that area. Ultrasound is safe for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. If you are pregnant or breastfeeding you can still be referred to the breast clinic for tests if you need to be.
This information was published in April 2021. We will revise it in 2024.
The Self-Checkout is here to help you get to know your chest by guiding you through the steps to checking and how to make it part of your routine.Visit The Self-Checkout