Breast Screening

Breast screening means carrying out regular mammograms for women without any breast problems, with the aim to reduce deaths from breast cancer through early detection of the disease. This involves x-raying as many women as possible, examining the results, and referring the women for further assessment if any early warning signs are present.

A mammogram involves four X-Rays of the breasts, the procedure involves compressing the breast each time to get a good image. If the breast is not compressed the image would be of very poor quality and would have to be repeated with adequate compression. Most women would describe the procedure as uncomfortable, rather than painful, although a few women may find it painful.

The compression during the procedure lasts for approximately 10-15 seconds for each picture and automatically releases once the X-Ray is taken, if you do find the compression too uncomfortable, you can inform the radiographer who may try position you differently.

Please see our ‘breast screening’ page to view a video demonstrating a whole breast screening appointment.

Action Cancer offers Breast Screening for women without symptoms, who have not had a mammogram elsewhere within two years and are aged 40-49 or 70+. 

In Northern Ireland, all women registered with a GP between the ages of 50 and 70 are called every three years for a mammogram with the NHS Breast Screening Programme. This is organised via your GP.  For more information contact your GP or local breast screening unit:

Belfast Health and Social Care Trust

Tel: 028 9033 3700

Northern Health and Social Care Trust

Tel: 028 9442 4425

Southern Health and Social Care Trust

Tel: 028 3834 7083

Western Health and Social Care Trust

Tel: 028 7161 1443

Action Cancer recommends a routine screening mammogram every two years for women in our age range.

Action Cancer was the first place in Ireland to introduce Full Field Digital mammography in July 2006.  This was further updated in 2010. A bit like digital cameras having mainly replaced traditional film cameras, digital technology is replacing traditional methods in the x-ray world. Digital mammography is simply a different way of acquiring the x-ray image and it allows for some manipulation of the image after x-ray such as magnification which aid reporting. It has been proven to better visualize the dense breast tissue prevalent in younger women and allows for a lower dose of radiation.

All mammograms are reported on by a least two specialist readers, at least one of whom will be a Consultant Radiologist. The system of 'double reading' is a breast screening 'gold standard' and is recommended by national & international guidelines.

Within three weeks both you and your GP will be sent a letter which will give a normal result or may ask you to go for further tests at a one-stop breast clinic. While a referral for extra tests can cause anxiety it is important to remember that the majority of women referred do not receive a diagnosis of breast cancer.

If you have received a normal result letter you should make a note of the date and remember to call Action Cancer in two years time for another mammogram. Also remain Breast Aware and if you notice any changes in your breast please see your GP.

Around 8% of women x-rayed will be referred on for further investigation. This does not necessarily mean that there is anything wrong: 4 out of 5 women recalled are given a normal result after further tests.

If this was your first mammogram:
Normally the specialists reporting look at the mammogram and compare it with one taken two years previously, looking for any changes. On a first mammogram we do not have a baseline mammogram for comparison. Our breasts are not perfectly symmetrical and we can have differing amounts of breast tissue in each, but on a first mammogram we may check out any area that appears different. It is more common to be recalled on a first mammogram.

If you have had previous mammograms:
The specialists reporting will have compared the mammogram taken with a previous one and have noted a change. Breast tissue changes with age and many changes may just be part of this process, but it is important to check them in case of a more serious problem.

If you have been recalled and would like to speak with a member of Action Cancer staff, please contact 028 9080 3344.

To arrange your referral please phone the number on your letter and the clinical administration them will arrange your referral to the most appropriate Breast Clinic for you. We will make sure that all your imaging and reports are sent to the Breast Consultant in time for your appointment. It is vital that you arrange this with us so that we can make sure that these details are forwarded to the hospital. Without them they will not carry out the assessment.

Yes. We can x-ray women who have silicon implants at Action Cancer. Breast implants can obscure mammogram images, decreasing the ability of mammograms to reveal breast cancer. Still, studies show that mammograms are an effective way to screen for breast cancer in women with breast implants. 

Screening mammography is not offered to women under 40 as there is no evidence to show that it is beneficial in this age group. The younger you are the denser the breast tissue, this means that it is very hard to pick up abnormalities in the breast tissue and makes mammography often an inappropriate examination for younger women.

However, women under 40 with breast concerns should see their GP.  They can make a referral to a specialist Breast Clinic where the woman can be examined using the most appropriate test. Otherwise the best advice is to be breast aware and when you turn 40 to book an appointment with Action Cancer.

Only 1% of breast cancers found in the UK are in men, this means that breast cancer is predominately a female disease. This is why breast screening is only available to women. However if a man has any breast concerns he should see his GP immediately for referral to a specialist clinic for assessment if appropriate

Both Action Cancer House & our mobile unit (the Big Bus) are fully wheelchair accessible and we welcome all women who are age eligible to attend for screening regardless of disability. However, mammography is a procedure which is technically difficult and which requires a high degree of cooperation between the radiographer and the woman.

The woman has to be carefully positioned on the x-ray machine, and must be able to hold the position for several seconds. This may not be possible for women with limited mobility in their upper bodies or who are unable to support their upper bodies unaided. Please contact Action Cancer if in any doubt about suitability.