PUBLISHED ON: 16 September 2013

Women invited for screening as part of the NHS Breast Screening Programme in England will receive a new information leaflet.

The leaflet called NHS Breast Screening: helping you decide explains the potential benefits and risks of screening for breast cancer and is designed to help women choose whether or not to attend screening.

Welcoming the revised information which is being used from today (Monday 16 September) Breast Cancer Care Clinical Nurse Specialist Jackie Harris said: ‘It is vital that women have access to clear information about breast screening to allow them to make an informed choice about whether to attend.

‘We hope that the balanced information included in the updated materials about both the potential benefits and potential risks of breast screening will help women make the decision that is right for them.’

What is breast screening?

Breast screening is an x-ray examination of the breasts (also called a mammogram). It may help to detect breast cancer before there are any signs or symptoms.

In the UK women between the ages of 50 and 70 are invited for breast screening every three years as part of a national breast cancer screening programme. In England this age range is being extended to 47–73 by the end of 2016.

Find out more about breast screening.

Why does breast screening have risks as well as benefits?

In 2012 an independent review of the evidence around breast screening was published by a panel of experts.

It estimated that each year in the UK breast screening saves about 1300 lives. Cancers detected through screening are usually diagnosed and treated earlier than they would have been without screening.

However screening also identifies cancers that may never have caused harm in a woman’s lifetime. Doctors can’t always tell whether a cancer identified during screening will go on to become life-threatening so all women with breast cancer are offered treatment. This means some women may have unnecessary surgery and other treatments as well as experiencing the emotional impact of the diagnosis.

It’s estimated that about 4000 women each year in the UK are offered treatment they did not need.

To put it into context of the total number of women invited to screening each year (307000) just under 0.5% (1307) will be prevented from dying from breast cancer and just over 1% (3971) will receive unnecessary treatment.

According to the new leaflet researchers are trying to find better ways to tell which women have breast cancers that will be life-threatening and which women have cancers that will not.

Where can I find more information about screening?

In addition to the revised leaflet you can read Breast Cancer Care’s information about breast screening or order or download our booklet Your breasts your health – throughout your life.

You can also call Breast Cancer Care’s free Helpline on 0808 800 6000.