South West London Breast Screening Programme
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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

If you have a question please check the FAQs below. If you still can't find the answer you're looking for then please feel free to contact us and we will be happy to try and help.



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Can I arrange my appointment nearer my place of work? Yes, we have five screening sites located across west London. Please call us on 0203 758 2024 or email and we will arrange a new appointment for you.

If none of these sites are convenient for your place of work, please call us on 0203 758 2024.
Can I change the date and time of my appointment? Yes, please call us on 0203 758 2024 or email us at to change the date, time or location of your screening appointment.
I am aged 47 and have been invited for breast screening, but I am: a) pregnant b) having IVF treatment, or c) breast feeding. Should I still be screened? Breast screening and the radiation from breast x-rays are limited to the breast area and so will not harm an unborn baby or affect IVF treatment.

If you are breast feeding, you may find screening more uncomfortable or painful. You should tell the mammographer if you are breastfeeding, as this sometimes means that x-rays can be unclear.

I don’t want to be screened, what do I do? We respect your decision not to be screened, although we do encourage all women to attend for breast screening when invited. If you choose not to take up your invitation, please call us on 0203 758 2024 or email us at so that your appointment is not wasted.

If you change your mind at any point in the future, please contact us and we will be happy to make you another appointment.
I have been invited to have a mammogram but I have had one within the last year, do I still need to attend? Please contact us for advice on whether you should attend this screening appointment.
I have been screened elsewhere shall I still keep my screening appointment? Please contact us for advice on whether you should attend this screening appointment.
I have moved house, what happens to my screening appointment? If you have notified your GP practice of your new address you will be invited for screening when your practice is invited. If this is likely to be over three years since your last invitation you will be invited separately from your practice to ensure you are screened on time.

If you have moved house and fear you may have missed a screening appointment please contact us.
I missed my appointment, how do I get another one? Please contact the screening unit by calling us on 0203 758 2024 or email us and we will arrange a new appointment for you.
I'm aged 47, and live in an area where age extension has started. Some local friends of the same age have been invited for screening, but I haven't. Why not? There are two possible reasons:
1) The GP practice you are registered with isn't yet due for screening
2) The GP Practice is being invited and your name isn't in the randomised group of women aged 47-50 who are receiving invitations
If your name hasn't been included in the randomisation process, then you can request to be screened anyway. Your invitation will arrive when your GP practice is next due to be included in screening.
NB Once you have reached the age of 50, routine rules apply and you can no longer opt into the screening programme.
If you don't live in an area where age extension has started, then you cannot be screened before your first routine invitation which should arrive before your 53rd birthday. Click here for more details.
Why have I been sent to a different site this time? We no longer screen in mobile units and now have five static sites located across west London. We invite women to the site that is nearest to their GP practice, but realise that this is not always convenient for everyone. If the site you have been invited to is not convenient, please call us on 0203 758 2024 or email us at and we will send you an appointment at another site.
Why have you stopped screening in mobile units? In order to provide a more efficient service we no longer use mobile clinics. Our static sites have many benefits – we are open more often, can book appointments further in advance, and our clinics offer greater privacy. In addition, with the digital mammography equipment we are able to use at the static clinics, taking x-rays is much quicker and women rarely need to return for repeat images due to technical problems. We realise that for some women the mobile sites were very convenient and are happy to change the location of your appointment if another of our clinics is more convenient for you.

Breast Symptoms

I have a breast lump, how do I make an appointment? If you have a breast lump or any other breast symptom, you should see your GP as soon as possible.
What should I do if I notice any breast changes? See your GP without delay even if you have had a recent mammogram. Breast changes can occur at anytime and should be investigated promptly.

Family History

I have a family history of breast cancer, do I need to have mammograms more often? If you think you are more at risk of breast cancer because of your family history, you should discuss this with your GP. Your GP can advise you further and may refer you to a family history clinic at your local breast unit. They will assess your risk and arrange extra screening if needed.

Having a Mammogram

Are mammograms safe? Any x-ray involves radiation but mammograms only require a very low dose, about the same as a person receives when flying from London to Australia and back. The risk of harm from this radiation exposure is very low, and the benefits of screening far outweigh the risks.
Can I bring someone with me? Yes. Please be aware that there is limited space in the waiting rooms at some of our screening sites, particularly at St Mary's Hospital.
Does a mammogram hurt? Some women find mammography uncomfortable and some find it painful, as the breasts have to be held firmly in position and pressed to take a good x-ray. If you do experience pain, it usually only lasts as long as the mammogram which takes a few minutes, although it may continue for some time in a small number of women.
Does breast screening prevent breast cancer? No. Breast screening aims to find breast cancer at an early stage when it may be too small to feel. Finding breast cancer early greatly increases the chances of successful treatment.
How long will the mammogram take? A mammogram takes a few minutes, however your whole visit to the screening unit will take about half an hour.
I have a disability, how will this affect my screening appointment? Please contact us to discuss your appointment, as we may need to allocate more time for your screening.
I have a pacemaker, can I have a mammogram? Yes, it is safe for you to have a mammogram. It is helpful if you can tell the mammographer where your pacemaker is sited.
I have a pacemaker, will this affect my mammogram? Your pacemaker may hide the small area of breast tissue behind the pacemaker, preventing it from being seen on the x-ray. The film readers will only be able to report on the breast tissue that they can see on the mammogram.
I have breast implants, can I have a mammogram? You can still be screened if you have breast implants, but the implants may mean that some of your breast tissue is not visible on the mammogram. Please contact us in advance of your appointment so we can allocate you more time. You should also makes sure that the mammographer knows you have implants, as more pictures might be necessary to ensure that as much breast tissue as possible is seen. There is no evidence that squeezing the breasts to take the x-rays harms the impants.

If you have had Macrolan injected into your breasts, please tell the mammographer as this can give a false read.

I have breast implants, will this affect my mammogram? Breast implants appear as a solid white area on a mammogram which may hide some of the breast tissue preventing it from being seen on the x-ray. The film readers will only be able to report on the breast tissue they can see on the mammogram. Please contact us so we can allocate more time for your appointment.
What is a mammogram? A mammogram is an x-ray examination of the breasts and is a method of finding breast cancer at a very early stage. A female mammographer will compress your breasts, one at a time between two special x-ray plates and take the x-rays. The compression only lasts a few seconds and does not cause any harm to the breasts. Compression is needed to keep the breast still and to get the clearest picture with the lowest amount of radiation possible.
What shall I wear for my appointment? You will be asked to undress completely down to your waist, so it is a good idea to wear separates instead of a dress.
When do I get my results? Your results will be sent to your home address within 2 to 3 weeks.
Where will the mammogram be done? Your mammogram will be performed at one of our five static units located across west London.
Who will take my mammogram? A female mammographer will always perform the x-ray.

Medical Terms

What is a Core Biopsy? This is when a tissue sample is taken from the breast using a special sampling needle. Local anaesthetic is used for the procedure.
What is an Ultrasound? An utltrasound is a scan which shows a picture of the tissues within the breast. It uses sound waves to create an image of the breast tissue.
What is Cytology? This is where a few cells are removed from the breast with a very fine needle and examined under a microscope. The test is similar to having blood taken.
What is Histology? The examination of tissues under the microscope to assist diagnosis.

Older Women

I am 70, can I have an appointment? Yes. The risk of getting breast cancer increases as women get older and we encourage women over 70 to continue with three yearly screening. All women over the age of 70 will need to contact us to arrange their appointment. Click here for more details.

Previous Breast Cancer

I have had breast cancer in the past, do I still need to come? We are happy to screen women who have had breast cancer. If you have recently had a mammogram please contact us for advice.

Timing of Breast Screening

I am 50, why have I not received my appointment? Once every three years your GP practice will be contacted and all women between the ages of 50 and 70 will be routinely invited. Not every woman will receive an appointment as soon as she is 50. You will receive your first appointment before your 53rd birthday. Click here for more details.
I am under 50 can I have an appointment? A research study is currently taking place across England that is looking at the potential risks and benefits of extending breast screening to women who are aged 47 to 49 and 71 to 73. This means that half of the women in these age groups are being randomly selected and invited for screening. Women in these age groups that are not invited can ask to be screened. The study will allow the risks and benefits of the extra screening to be assessed.Click here for more details.

If you have a family history of breast cancer, please see your GP who may refer you to a family history clinic at your local breast unit. The family history clinic will assess your need for extra mammographic screening.
What should I do between breast screens? You should continue to be breast aware, ie looking and feeling your breasts, knowing what is normal for you and reporting any changes or concerns to your GP without delay. If you are concerned about your breasts, do not wait until your next mammogram.

Remember - breast screening picks up most, but not, all breast cancers.
Why is my screening invitation not exactly 3 years since my last appointment? From time to time changes to the screening plan result in women receiving an appointment slightly earlier than the standard 3 years. If you believe its been more than 3 years since your last screening mammogram please contact us.

Who works in the Screening service

Breast Care Nurse A specialist nurse who is available for information, advice and support for all women. If you would like to speak to a breast care nurse, please contact us.
Consultant Radiologist An expert who specialises in imaging (x-rays and ultrasound). Consultant Radiologists in breast screening read the mammograms (x-rays) and give the results. They also perform ultrasound scans and biopsies if further tests are needed.
Consultant Surgeon If further treatment is needed, women will be referred to a specialist breast surgeon at their local breast unit or a unit of their choice.
Pathologist A doctor who specialises in the diagnosis of disease and conditions by examining cells and tissue under the microscope.
Radiographer Takes the mammogram (x-ray). All radiographers working in the NHS Breast Screening Programme are women and have undertaken specialist training in mammography.