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Cambridge and Huntingdon breast screening service

Breast unit

Welcome to the Cambridge and Huntingdon Breast Screening Service. Here you will find all the information you need for Breast Screening.

Please do take up the invitation and come along to meet our friendly, professional and experienced staff who are waiting to assist you.

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Breast screening unit
One of our breast screening units

What is breast screening?

The NHS Breast Screening Programme (NHSBSP) aims to detect breast cancers at an early stage, when they are too small to see or feel. Breast screening involves an x-ray test of the breasts called a mammogram and is routinely offered every 3 years to all women between the ages of 50 and 70 years who are registered as female with a GP.

How often will I be screened?

The NHSBSP provides free breast screening every three years for all eligible people in the UK aged 50 to 70. Around one-and-a-half million women are screened in the UK each year.

When will I be screened?

The NHS Breast Screening Programme is a rolling one which invites women from GP practices in turn. This means not every woman receives her invitation as soon as she is 50. It will be sometime between the ages of 50 and 53. If you are registered with a GP and the practice has your correct details, then you will automatically receive an open invitation to arrange your appointment with us. We have 2 mobile units that each year visit 7 locations throughout the county so you should find one not too far away.

When you are called for screening, we have introduced a text message service which will send you appointment reminders and any cancellation information. When booking your appointment with our admin team please let us know if you would like to have your mobile number added to the system and to notify us of any changes to your contact details so that we have the most up to date information for you.

Where will I be screened?

The Cambridge and Huntingdon Breast Screening Service at Addenbrooke's Hospital is incorporated in the Cambridge Breast Unit. Screening mammography is carried out on the mobile mammography units, which travel to various sites around Cambridgeshire during each year. A small number of appointments within the Cambridge Breast Unit on the Addenbrooke’s site are offered to clients with enhanced needs, for example a learning disability or mobility issues.

What happens at a breast screening appointment?

You will be greeted by a member of staff who checks your personal details (name, age and address) are correct. Staff will also ask about any breast problems you may have had in the past. Your appointment should last no more than fifteen minutes.

In order to have your mammogram you will need to undress to the waist. You may find it easier to wear a skirt or trousers instead of a dress. Please avoid spray deodorant or talcum powder, as these can show up on your mammogram. You can use a roll-on deodorant. Please do not wear a necklace to your appointment as it will show up on your mammogram.

Your mammogram will be carried out by a female health care professional called a mammographer. The mammographer will ask you about any current breast symptoms or history of breast disease, explain what will happen when the mammogram is taken, and answer any questions about breast screening you may have. If you are happy to proceed, the mammographer will take the mammogram.

Radiographer taking a mammogram
Radiographer taking a mammogram

Your breast will be placed onto the mammogram machine and carefully compressed gently by a plastic plate. This compression helps to keep your breast still and in the correct position so we can achieve diagnostic images. The compression lasts for only a few seconds and most women find it a bit uncomfortable but tolerable. You will be able to tell the mammographer how you are finding the examination and they are experienced in adapting their technique to your needs.

The mammographer will take 2 images (x-rays) of each breast in different positions so 4 images in total. The machine will release the compression automatically after each image. You will need to stay still for several seconds during each image.

mammogram scan
Image of a mammogram

All mammograms are checked for quality by the mammographer during your appointment and are double reported by trained mammography readers. If there are any signs of change within one or both breasts, you may be recalled for further assessment.

After your images have been taken the mammographer will explain when and how you will get your results, and remind you of the need to be breast aware between screening appointments. You will automatically be invited for screening again in 3 years’ time.

Your results

The majority of women will receive a letter in the post telling them their mammogram is normal. A few women will be asked to return for a number of reasons; sometimes the initial images were not clear enough for technical reasons. A few women will be recalled for further assessment and this will take place at the Breast unit at Addenbrooke's hospital. Most women who are recalled will be discharged at the end of their assessment.

What happens if I'm recalled for assessment?

If there is any uncertainty about your mammogram result, we will invite you to the Cambridge Breast Unit for further assessment. This is a standard process nationally and would involve a clinical examination of your breasts by a trained healthcare professional, further imaging, and biopsy of your breast(s) if required. As much will be done as possible during the appointment to avoid multiple visits and delays in your results.

Further imaging could involve:

  • Additional mammographic x-ray views
  • A 3D mammogram using tomosynthesis
  • Ultrasound of the breast

Some patients will require a biopsy to confirm their imaging findings. In the vast majority of cases this will be performed during the same visit. Biopsy results take several days to come back from the laboratory and you will be given a results appointment to return and discuss your results with the clinical team. You will also be given the contact details of our Specialist Breast Care Nurses who will be able to help you with any questions or worries you have during this time.

Ultrasound

This is similar to the ultrasound used for pregnant women. It is a painless examination of the breast using sound waves instead of X-rays. The examination is performed while you are lying down; some jelly is applied to the skin and a probe is passed over the breast to produce a picture on the screen.

Needle biopsy

This involves injecting local anaesthetic into the breast, and the introduction of a special needle designed to take a small sample of tissue for analysis by the pathologist. This procedure can be performed by a surgeon or radiologist. According to the method used, this can take 10 – 30 minutes.

The majority of our breast biopsies are performed using ultrasound for guidance. Occasionally patients will need breast biopsies using mammographic guidance.

Should it be necessary to perform a needle biopsy, it will take a week for the pathologist to process the test. For this reason, we will need you to return the following week for the result.

Breast MRI

Very occasionally patients will need a Magnetic Resonance Scan of their breasts.

What happens if I'm under 50 or over 70?

Breast Screening commences at age 50. If you are under 50 or have a breast concern, please seek advice from your GP.

Over 70’s are still eligible for breast screening free of charge on the NHS, as this age group are still at risk of breast cancer. The only difference is you are required to make your own appointment at 3 yearly intervals by contacting the Cambridge Breast Unit on 01223 217627.

Family history screening

At present we are able to offer a breast screening service for people who are at high or moderately increased risk of getting breast cancer because of their family history. If you believe this applies to you, please contact your GP to discuss your family history. Family history breast screening takes place in the Cambridge Breast Unit on the Addenbrooke’s site and we run dedicated clinics for this group. A family history mammogram would be performed in the same way as a routine breast screening mammogram.

Patient information