Breast Screening

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One in eight women will develop breast cancer at some time in their life. 80% of breast cancers occur in women over 50. The risk of breast cancer rises as women get older. This is why the breast screening programme only targets women in this age group.

Breast screening is carried out by mammography. This is an x-ray examination of the breasts. The x-ray is taken by compressing the breasts, one at a time between two special x-ray plates. The compression only lasts a few seconds and there is no evidence this harms the breast. Compression is needed to keep the breast still, in order to get the clearest picture with the lowest amount of radiation.

Some women find mammography uncomfortable and some find it painful as the breasts have to be held firmly in position and pressed to take a good x-ray. This pain usually only lasts as long as the mammogram, although it may continue for some time in a small number of women.

Mammograms are reviewed and the results will be sent to both the patient and their GP within two weeks. There are three possible results:

  • Normal: No signs of cancer and the patient will be sent an invite again in three years
  • Technical repeat: The mammogram needs to be repeated for technical reasons only
  • Assessment: When more detail is needed before a result is decided.

This appointment can take between two to five hours because they aim to do all the necessary tests at one appointment. If a patient needs a needle biopsy, their result will be ready in seven to ten days. If a patient would like specific information about the reason they have been invited back, they may find it helpful to speak to one of the breast care nurses who will have access to their records.

The aim of breast screening is to detect breast cancer at an earlier stage, often before the woman is aware of any problem. Early detection may mean simpler and more successful treatment. Scientific evidence shows that regular breast screening, between the ages of 50-70 years, reduces the death rate from breast cancer. See the NHS Breast Screening Programme (External Links) for more details.

To enable women to be screened closer to home, breast screening is carried out at a number of sites across the region.

In Islington and Camden, the Breast Screening Service is provided by The Central & East London Breast Screening Service (see External Links).

In Barnet, Enfield and Haringey the Breast Screening Service is provided by The North London Breast Screening Service (see External Links).

Both services are managed by The Royal Free Hospital.

Breast screening units across London have put much in place to reduce the risk of Covid-19 to keep patients safe. Access to screening services is also easier as patients can have their appointment on days and times of their own choosing. Please note that whilst the screening services continue to recover following a pause during the first Covid-19 lockdown, appointment capacity at some sites may be limited. 

For more related information, see the following pages on this website: 

Eligibility criteria


Women aged 50-70:

  • All women between 50 and 70 years who are registered with a GP are eligible for screening. A list is compiled from GP records, so it is important patient contact details are correct.

Women aged 47-49 (this pilot is currently paused):

  • Some women in the 47 to 49 year age range will be invited. Those who are not invited as part of this pilot will receive an invitation for screening in three years.

Women over 70 (this pilot is currently paused):

  • Some women in the 71 to 73 year age range will be invited. Those not invited as part of this pilot and who have not been screened for three years can still request an appointment by contacting London Breast Screening on 020 3758 2024 or email

Anyone of any age with concerns about their breasts should contact their GP immediately.

How to refer

The following clinicians can refer to this service: GPs

EMIS form

Please note: E-referral is the preferred booking method for suspected breast cancer/breast symptoms referrals.

A referral form can be found in ISL EMIS under:



The invitation is sent out automatically. All women will receive their first invitation for a mammogram sometime between their 50th and 53rd birthdays.

GP practices are invited for screening in turn, so women will not necessarily get their invitation in the year that they turn 50. As long as a woman is registered with a GP, she will receive an invitation before her 53rd birthday.

Women aged over 70 should get in touch every three years to request screening.

t: 020 3758 2024


External Links