The NHS offers breast screening to reduce the number of women who die from breast cancer. Screening does this by finding breast cancers at an early stage when they are too small to see or feel. Breast cancer is more common in women aged over 50. The Scottish Breast Screening Programme invites women aged between 50 and 70 years old for screening every three years. Women over 70 years old are able to attend through self-referral. 

  • 1 in 8 women in Scotland will be diagnosed with breast cancer.
  • Higher numbers of breast cancers are diagnosed among women in the age range invited for screening but rates are highest amongst the elderly.
  • Due to improved detection and treatment options, survival has significantly increased over the last 30 years.
  • In Scotland, for every 400 women screened regularly for 10 years, 1 less woman will die from breast cancer. This means breast screening saves around 130 lives every year in Scotland.
  • Breast screening detects tiny cancers, when they are often less advanced and easier to treat.
  • Breast screening appointments take place at one of six local screening centres (external) or at one of the mobile units.
  • Out of 100 women who undergo breast screening, 5 will be invited back for further tests, of which 4 will be found not to have breast cancer and 1 will be found to have breast cancer.

Information Services Division's Breast Screening Programme page (external) has more information on breast screening incidence, mortality and screening trends over time. 

Screening and health inequalities

There are inequalities in the risk factors for breast cancer, in the uptake of breast cancer screening and in survival rates.

  • Lifestyle factors including post-menopausal obesity, alcohol consumption, inactivity and a high-fat diet increase the risk of breast cancer.Each of these factors is socially patterned, with people living in deprived areas more at risk.
  • Women from lower socioeconomic groups are less likely to go for breast cancer screening.
  • Breast cancer survival rates are worse in women from more deprived areas, in part due to the lower uptake of breast cancer screening.

The 2016 Scottish Cancer Strategy (external) 'Beating Cancer: Ambition and Action' sets out a clear commitment to reduce inequalities in cancer screening. 

Local and national action

The Scottish Government launched the Detect Cancer Early programme (external) in 2012. This is a programme of work to improve survival for people with cancer by diagnosing and treating the disease at an early stage. The 'Get Checked Early' Scottish Government website has the programme’s information for the public, including breast cancer and screening (external). This includes a short video with Elaine C. Smith explaining the breast screening process.

We have developed three breast screening briefing sheets to support health professionals when discussing, and answering, questions that women may have regarding the breast screening programme.

We send women aged between 50 and 70 an information leaflet along with their breast screening appointment letter. The leaflet explains the benefits and risks of breast screening and what to expect at their appointment to help women make an informed choice about whether or not to attend.  The leaflet is available in alternative languages and in an easy read format.

NHS Inform provides further breast screening information for the public.