Restoration and recovery of the Breast Cancer Screening Programme
Routine breast cancer screening was temporarily paused from the second week in March 2020. This was in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Department of Health has now called for the phased restoration of all paused screening programmes. This has begun and routine breast cancer screening restarted from 20 July 2020.
The four month pause to date has resulted in a backlog of women awaiting screening. In addition, the screening programme will not be able to screen the same number of women as it did before the Covid-19 pandemic. This is due to the need for social distancing and appropriate infection control measures. It will therefore take many months to get the programme up and running at normal levels again.
I have already been screened but have not received my result.
You’ll still receive your results letter. If you require further assessment, you’ll be invited to attend a clinic.
I have been invited to attend for further assessment. Should I still attend my appointment?
Assessment clinics continue to be held within our screening centres. If you do not wish to attend or you’d like to discuss your attendance in further detail with a member of our clinical team, contact your local screening centre. Please also note due to COVID restrictions, refreshments in the waiting area will not be available during this time.
However, those considered to be in the extremely vulnerable group, those who have, or had, symptoms of COVID-19 and are self-isolating and those who are currently self-isolating due to a household member having symptoms are advised not to attend. An alternative appointment may be made by contacting the unit.
Eastern Area Breast Screening Unit
Northern Area Breast Screening Unit
Western Area Breast Screening Unit
Southern Area Breast Screening Unit
Am I at risk of developing breast cancer as I wait for my screening appointment?
We understand that the delay to your breast screening appointment may cause anxiety.
However breast screening is designed to pick up breast cancers at a very early stage when they are too small to see or feel.
For every 100 women going for screening, one will be diagnosed with breast cancer and this is normally at a very early stage when it’s treatable. It’s therefore highly unlikely that the delay in your screening appointment will cause any harm.
What can I do as I wait for my screening appointment?
While the breast screening programme in Northern Ireland is temporarily paused due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, it’s important to be symptom aware.
See your GP if you notice any changes that aren’t normal for you, especially if the changes are only in one breast.
Breast changes to look out for include:
- a change in the size, shape or feel of your breast, the skin may look dimpled
- puckering or redness of the skin, a rash or crusting on your nipple
- surrounding area change in your nipple, such as a change in the shape or if it turns into the breast (becomes inverted)
- a discharge from your nipple (unless you’re breastfeeding)
- bleeding from your nipple area pain in part of your breast or armpit swelling, thickening or a lump in your breast or armpit
These symptoms don’t mean that you have breast cancer, but if you have them, see your GP.
I normally attend the Higher Risk Breast Surveillance Screening Programme, will I still be called for my appointment?
Women who have been identified as being at higher risk of breast cancer will continue to receive invitations to attend for surveillance screening. At the minute the screening programme will continue to invite women to attend during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. All appointments will be at the Regional Higher Risk Imaging Centre at Antrim Area Hospital. We will update this information if the situation changes.
However, those considered to be in the extremely vulnerable group, those who have, or had, symptoms of COVID-19 and are self-isolating and those who are currently self-isolating due to a household member having symptoms are advised not to attend. An alternative appointment may be made by contacting the unit. Details will be provided with your invitation letter.
The breast screening programme covers the whole of Northern Ireland. The programme invites women by GP practice every three years. A woman might be aged 50, 51 or 52 when she receives her first invite to attend – the first invitation will be before the age of 53.
In order to be invited women must ensure that their GP has their correct name and current address on their computer system.
When you receive an invitation to attend for breast screening:
- Read the information leaflet that comes with the invitation. It is called Breast screening can save lives
- If you want more information or advice speak with your GP
- If you have special requirements speak to the breast screening unit
- Plan in advance how you will get to the appointment on the day, including transport, time off work, someone to look after the children or other dependents and consider whether you want to bring a companion.
- If the appointment doesn’t suit you phone the breast screening unit and arrange to attend at a different time
Increasing the number of women who participate in breast screening is vital in reducing the number of women dying from breast cancer. In Northern Ireland women aged 50 to 70 are invited to attend every three years. However, about 25% of women invited do not attend for screening. There are a variety of reasons why some women may not attend, including the way the programme is organised, poor communication or to individual factors (personal circumstances).
A well organised system for inviting women to attend for breast screening improves uptake. In Northern Ireland we have had a good call and recall computer system operating for many years. This system is called the National Breast Screening System (NBSS). In order to be able to produce invitation letters it needs to be able to identify women who are aged 50 – 70 and have up to date contact information. Until recently this information was cross checked manually with the information held by GPs.
In November 2010 an electronic link was established between NBSS and the computer system that supports primary care. The link means that the most up to date contact details are now readily available to the breast screening programme. The whole process of course depends on the GP computer system being completely accurate.
A series of information leaflets is available on the publications section of this website by clicking here
For more information on breast screening please also see www.cancerscreening.hscni.net.
The Breast Screening programme has produced a video to show what happens when women attend their appointment for a mammogram. To view the video click here: http://www.cancerscreening.hscni.net/Breast%20Screening%20video.htm