A randomised control trial (RCT) evaluating the net effects of extending the age range for breast screening is now underway. This involves women aged 47-49, and 71-73. Please see:
In Improving Outcomes: A Strategy for Cancer [PDF 1Mb], published in January 2011, the Government outlined its plans to run the randomisation of the breast screening age extension over two three-year screening rounds rather than one.
This means that all women will get two extra screening invitations in their lifetime. It also means that all women will get their first screening invitation by their 50th birthday.
As usual, women in the 50-70 age group will be called for screening every three years and women over the age of 70, who wish to be screened, can request a mammogram at their local unit every three years.
PDFs are available of 'Extending the screening age range' leaflets:
English (PDF 37Kb)
Note: This leaflet is large print when printed on A4 paper (16pt font)
Arabic (PDF 582Kb)
Bengali (PDF 562Kb)
Chinese (PDF 631Kb)
Polish (PDF 578Kb)
Punjabi (PDF 602Kb)
Urdu (PDF 588Kb)
1: I'm aged 47, and live in an area where age extension has started. Some local friends of the same age have been invited for screening, but I haven't. Why not?
There are two possible reasons:
1) The GP practice you are registered with isn't yet due for screening
2) The GP practice is being invited and your name isn't in the randomised group of women aged 47-50 who are receiving invitations
If your name hasn't been included in the randomisation process, then you can request to be screened anyway. Your invitation will arrive when your GP practice is next due to be included in screening.
NB Once you have reached the age of 50, routine rules apply and you can no longer opt into the screening programme.
If you don't live in an area where age extension has started, then you cannot be screened before your first routine invitation which should arrive before your 53rd birthday.
2: I am aged 51 and haven't been invited for screening, but I have a friend aged 48 who has. Why is this?
Your friend will have been invited as part of the age extension, which is starting to invite women aged 47-49, and 71-73. For women already older than 47-49, their first invitations to screening will arrive between their 50th and 53rd birthday, as usual. Also, see 1 above.
3: I am aged 49 and have been invited for screening. I'm worried that the extra screening appointments I will have as part of the age extension means that I will have more radiation exposure from the x-rays. Can you advise?
The age extension means that eventually, women will have NHS Breast Screening nine times in their lifetime instead of seven (one extra screening aged 47-49, and one aged 71-73). Although this means that you will be exposed to x-rays more times, there is no current evidence to suggest that the risk of this exposure outweighs the benefits of breast screening.
4: I am aged 47, and have been invited for breast screening, but I:
a) am pregnant, or
b) am having IVF treatment, or
c) am breast feeding,
Should I still be screened?
Breast screening and the radiation from breast x-rays are limited to the breast area and so will not harm an unborn baby, or affect IVF treatment.
If you are breast feeding, you may find screening more uncomfortable or painful. You should tell the mammographer if you are breast feeding, as sometimes it means the x-rays can be unclear.
5: I have breast implants. Can I still be screened?
You can still be screened if you have breast implants, but the implants can mean some of the breast tissue may not show up on the mammogram. You should tell the mammographer if you have implants as more pictures might be necessary to ensure that as much breast tissue is seen as possible.. There is no evidence that squeezing the breasts to take the x-rays harms the implants. If you have had Macrolane injected into your breasts please tell the mammographer as this can give a false reading.
There is a leaflet available entitled Breast implants and breast screening, about breast screening for women with breast implants.
6: I am aged 47, and have a family history of breast cancer. Can I be screened more often than every three years?
Nearly all women of screening age are screened every three years. Only women who have been assessed by a specialist at being at very high risk of breast cancer may be advised to be screened more often.
If you are concerned about a family history of cancer, and have not been assessed by a specialist, then you should speak to your GP. He or she will refer you for specialist assessment if necessary. Not all women with a family history are at increased risk.
Back to key research in breast screening.
- NHSBSP home page
- Programme publications
- About breast screening
- What is breast screening?
- What does the NHS Breast Screening Programme do?
- What happens at a breast screening unit?
- Why are women under 50 not routinely invited?
- Are women screened over the age of 70?
- Screening women at higher risk
- Does breast screening save lives?
- Does breast screening have any risks?
- Digital Mammography/Tomosynthesis
- Research in breast screening
- About breast cancer
- Programme logistics
- Frequently asked questions
- Programme statistics
- Mammography equipment reports
- Programme news index
- Useful links