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How to decide if you want breast screening

Regular breast screening can find breast cancer before you notice any signs or symptoms.

What breast screening is

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 about:

If you're more likely to get breast cancer

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.

What to do if you think you have a higher chance of getting breast cancer

Speak to a GP if you think you might have a higher chance of getting breast cancer.

They can refer you to a genetic specialist who will discuss this with you. You may need to have genetic tests.

Depending on your chance, you may:

  • be invited for breast screening before you are 50
  • be invited more often than every 3 years
  • have MRI scans as well as mammograms – MRI can give a clearer picture in younger people

The specialist looking after you will explain how you will be screened.

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 (mastectomy)
  • more likely 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, see a GP straightaway.

Find out How should I check my breasts.

Risks of breast screening

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.


More information:

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 a GP or your local breast screening service and ask to be taken off the breast screening list.

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

Page last reviewed: 10 September 2021
Next review due: 10 September 2024