What does breast screening mean?
Breast screening is offered every three years to women between the ages of 50 and 70 who are resident in the UK. This process saves around 1 life for every 200 women screened – about 1,300 women each year. However, the process also finds non-life-threatening cancers in around 3 out of 200 women screened, which can lead to unnecessary treatment.
Researchers are working hard to find better ways to identify which breast cancers will be life-threatening.
What is a mammogram?
Also called a breast X-ray, a mammogram is performed on an X-ray machine. A plastic plate is lowered onto your breast to gently but firmly flatten it. This can be uncomfortable and occasionally painful for some women. The radiologist will go behind a screen whilst the X-rays are taken due to the level of radiation involved in the process.
What is an ultrasound scan?
An ultrasound scan, sometimes called a sonogram, is a procedure that uses high-frequency sound waves to create an image of part of the inside of the body. A small device called an ultrasound probe is used on the surface of your breast with the image displayed on a machine as the scan is carried out.
What is 3D Isotropic Superimposition-free Imaging?
This is a brand-new method for CT breast scanning, called nu:view, which can be used when a patient has already had a mammogram or an ultrasound scan which has identified possible abnormalities.
The patient lies on their stomach with the breast placed in a cavity ensuring there is no compression on the breast. The fast, low-dose, 3D scan uses state-of-the-art single photon counting technology to produce an image of the entire breast in a single scan.
My scans show an abnormality
This does not mean you have cancer however your clinician will want you to have further tests. These may include a second mammogram or an ultrasound scan if you have not already had this. If the clinic is equipped with nu:view, a 3D isotropic scan will be performed.
If a lump or unusual area is found, your doctor may perform a biopsy to take a sample of tissue cells from that area. A biopsy can be taken in various ways but the most common is a needle biopsy done under a local anaesthetic, which uses a large needle to extract a sample of the tissue.
You should be offered follow-up appointments at 3, 9 and 18 months, then once every year. At these appointments, your bladder will be checked using a cystoscopy. If your cancer returns within 5 years, you’ll be referred back to a specialist urology team.
What happens next?
If you have cancer, you should be assigned a multidisciplinary team (MDT) of specialists who work together to provide the best treatment and care.
All hospitals use multidisciplinary teams (MDT) to treat breast cancer. These are specialists that work together to make decisions about the best way to proceed with your treatment.
Team members may include:
- a breast surgeon – a specialist in treating conditions affecting the breast
- a clinical oncologist – a specialist in chemotherapy and radiotherapy
- a pathologist – a specialist in diseased tissue
- a radiologist – a specialist in detecting disease using imaging techniques
Some hospitals have specialist breast cancer nurses. They go to the MDT meetings and you will usually see the nurses more regularly than your surgeon or cancer specialist. They can answer your questions and support you.