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Public Health Division
Room 3-EN
St Andrews House
Regent Road
Edinburgh EH1 3DG

Tel: +44 (0)8457 741 741 or +44 (0)131 556 8400

Fax: +44 (0)1397 795 001

E-mail: screening@gov.scot

Breast Screening

Why Screen for Breast Cancer?

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in Scottish women, accounting for 28.9 per cent of female cancer cases. There were 4,457 new cases diagnosed in women in Scotland in 2010 and 1,022 deaths from the disease in 2010.

Although incidence of breast cancer in Scotland has increased by 12 per cent from 2000 to 2010 the mortality rate has decreased by 18.3 per cent over that period.  In 2010/11 - 181,886 women were screened. In the same year the attendance rate was 74.7 per cent and 1,683 cancers were detected.

Breast Cancer Screening Programme

The Scottish Breast Screening Programme (SBSP) has been running since 1988 with national coverage achieved in 1991. The SBSP provides routine screening every three years for all eligible women aged between 50 and 70.

Women over 70 can still be screened by self-referring themselves to their local breast screening unit. The upper age range for breast screening was previously 64. An extension to this age range was phased in across Scotland from 2003 and is now in place throughout the country.

Women are invited to attend either a breast screening unit, of which there are six, one each in Inverness, Aberdeen, Irvine, Glasgow, Dundee and Edinburgh, or attend one of the 18 mobile screening units in operation around the country.

Results are by post and usually within three weeks. The women's GP is also informed of the outcome. A few women may require further tests and will be invited to attend an assessment clinic at the screening centre. Most of these women will then be reassured and will be invited back for their next screening in three years.

For women diagnosed with breast cancer finding it early gives the best change of successful treatment. The treatment options are fully discussed and arrangements are made for referral to a specialist breast team.

Breast Screening Review

Although the programme has undergone significant developments over the years, there has never been a full national review of the service. A formal review of the way the service is delivered is currently being undertaken, to ensure that it can adapt to meet future challenges, and remain a sustainable high quality and equitable breast screening service for women aged 50 to 70 resident in Scotland, and in the most clinically and cost effective way.

The review is being conducted by NHS National Services Scotland's National Services Division and aims to ensure the screening programme remains effective and sustainable given the need to:

  • Replace older analogue screening equipment with digital technology which will require a change in working practices
  • Recruit and retain sufficient, suitably trained staff for the service in the future
  • Continue to meet the new cancer waiting times targets of 62 days from referral to treatment