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About breast screening

What is the Breast Screening Programme?

The NHS Breast Screening Programme offers a free breast screening service every three years to all women aged over 50 years old who are registered with a GP. We are currently extending the programme in east Kent so a lady may now receive her first invitation from age 47 onwards.

Breast screening is an effective way of detecting breast cancer, often at a very early stage, when there are no outward signs. The sooner the problem is detected, the more ways there are of treating it successfully. Many women in east Kent have had their lives saved by taking part in the breast screening programme.

Breast screening usually takes place in a local mobile unit, normally in a car park attached to a public building, eg a local supermarket. The mobile unit is equipped with all the necessary screening equipment and has a seated reception area and separate changing cubicles.

Some women will be screened at Kent and Canterbury Hospital, for example, women who are unable to climb the steps to the mobile unit.

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Getting your appointment

All women registered with a local GP will automatically be sent an appointment for their first breast screening at some time between the ages of 47-52 years. After this they will be called every three years until they reach the age of 70.  

After this, a lady can still choose to continue having mammograms every three years by calling her local office to self-refer for an appointment when she is next due.

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What happens at a breast screening appointment?

A breast screening appointment can take from ten minutes to half an hour. The radiographer will ask you to confirm your name, age and address, and about any symptoms or history of breast disease. She will explain what will happen when the mammograms are taken, and will take the mammogram when you are happy to proceed.

The mammogram is a low dose x-ray. Each breast is placed in turn on the x-ray machine and gently but firmly compressed with a clear plate. The compression only lasts a few seconds and does not cause any harm to the breasts.

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Getting your results

A letter containing your results will come to your address within four weeks of having your mammogram taken.

A copy will also be sent to your GP.

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What it means if you are called back

Between 5% and 10% of ladies are called back. There are two reasons why you may be called back.


The mammogram was not good enough for a diagnosis to be made resulting in a technical recall. This could be due to a film processing fault, a blurred image or incorrect positioning. In this case, you will be given an appointment for another mammogram, either at the mobile screening unit or at the main department in Kent and Canterbury Hospital. Your letter will tell you where to attend.


The radiologists and breast clinicians need more detailed information. You will be asked to attend an assessment clinic at Kent and Canterbury Hospital to have these tests. We will be able to reassure most women at the end of this appointment.

Your letter will tell you why you are being called back.

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What is an assessment clinic?

Assessment clinics are held in the Kent and Canterbury Hospital, Canterbury.

In an assessment clinic you will be given various tests and you will see either the radiologist or breast clinician.

Your appointment can last up to two hours. During your appointment you may have further x-rays, an ultrasound or both. Some women may also have a biopsy.

The radiologist or breast clinician will be able to give you a diagnosis on the day or an indication of what your diagnosis will be following your biopsy. Biopsy results usually take 7-10 days to come back and the clinician will make sure you know when and how you will get your results. 

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