Does breast screening have any risks?

Anxiety or risks

Every effort is made to minimise women's anxiety at all stages of screening. Invitation and recall letters are carefully worded and include a contact telephone number for women who have questions. Research into the levels of anxiety when women are called back for the second stage of screening (assessment) has led to standards to minimise the number of women who are recalled for further investigation. Less than ten per cent of women screened for the first time and less than seven per cent of those screened for a second or subsequent time should be recalled.

Informed Choice

The Facts: Written in 19 languages

To help them make an informed choice about whether or not to come for breast screening, all eligible women now receive a leaflet, 'NHS Breast Screening' with their invitation. The leaflet explains the benefits and limitations of breast screening.

This initiative is part of the NHS Cancer Plan and follows efforts to make the limitations of screening better understood in the wake of the Bristol Inquiry and Alder Hey. The leaflets also address the need to inform patients about the use of personal information for audit, as advised in General Medical Council guidance as well as tying in with the Data Protection Act, the Human Rights Act and Disability Discrimination Act.

The leaflets have been produced in Braille and on tape in English and translated into 18 languages: Gujarati, Punjabi, Urdu, Bengali, Chinese, Hindi, Somali, Polish, Greek, Ukrainian, Arabic, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese Vietnamese, French, Farsi and Kurdish (Sorani).

X-rays

Any x-ray involves radiation but mammograms only require a very low dose. It is about the same as the dose a person receives by flying from London to Australia and back. The risk that such a low dose could cause a cancer is far outweighed by the benefits of early detection of breast cancer. The radiation dose delivered by breast screening x-rays is continually monitored to ensure that it remains as low as possible while still providing a good quality image.

For a discussion of radiation doses in the NHS Breast Screening Programme, see the following reference: The British Journal of Radiology, 78 (2005), 207*218.

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