What does the NHS Breast Screening Programme do?

The NHS Breast Screening Programme provides free breast screening every three years for all women aged 50 and over. Because the programme is a rolling one which invites women from GP practices in turn, not every woman receives an invitation as soon as she is 50. But she will receive her first invitation before her 53rd birthday. Once women reach the upper age limit for routine invitations for breast screening, they are encouraged to make their own appointment.

The programme is now phasing in an extension of the age range of women eligible for breast screening to those aged 47 to 73. This started in 2010 and is expected to be complete by 2016.

In September 2000, research was published which demonstrated that the NHS Breast Screening Programme had lowered mortality rates from breast cancer in the 55-69 age group1. In 2010, research undertaken by Stephen Duffy and others demonstrated that the benefit of mammographic screening in terms of lives saved is greater than the harm in terms of overdiagnosis. Between 2 and 2.5 lives are saved for every overdiagnosed case.

[1] Effect of NHS Breast Cancer Screening Programme on Mortality from Breast Cancer in England and Wales, 1990-8: Comparison of Observed with Predicted Mortality. BMJ 2000:665-669