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Cancer Screening, Diagnosis and Care

European guidelines on breast cancer screening and diagnosis

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Breast cancer screening

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Breast cancer diagnosis

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3. Screening ages and frequencies


Recommendations (patients)

If you are aged 50 to 69, should you attend an organised mammography screening programme?

Yes, the ECIBC's Guidelines Development Group (GDG) strongly recommends that women between 50 and 69 years old, who are not at high risk of breast cancer and do not have symptoms, have mammography screening for breast cancer.

How often?

Every 2 years and not annually.

Who are these recommendations for?

Who are these recommendations (patients)
  • You are between 50 and 69 years old
  • You do not have a high risk of breast cancer
  • You do not have symptoms of breast cancer

What would following these recommendations mean for you?

What would following these recommendations mean for you (patients)

You may wish to speak with your healthcare professional to determine if you are at high, average or low risk of breast cancer, or if you want to discuss the balance of benefits and harms further.

Additional considerations

Additional considerations (patients)

Having mammography to screen for breast cancer when you are between 50 and 69 years old, is strongly recommended because there are greater benefits than harms.

The risk of dying from breast cancer is reduced and your risk of developing breast cancer stage III or greater may be reduced. There would be little or no effect on your risk of death from other causes.

Annual screening, compared to screening every 2 or 3 years, may reduce your risk of dying from breast cancer but might increase your chance of being overdiagnosed.

Annual screening may also increase the chance of you receiving a false positive mammography result, which means that you would have further tests after screening, including biopsy. These tests will confirm that you do not have cancer, but you may have suffered unnecessary anxiety and distress.

When having a mammogram every 2 years compared to 3, there are fewer breast cancers diagnosed with symptoms in the interval between the scheduled screening appointments.


Definitions (patients)

Overdiagnosis: An overdiagnosed cancer is a cancer diagnosed by screening which is so slow-growing that it would never have been diagnosed in a person’s lifetime if the person had not been screened. We cannot tell which cancers are of this type, however, so, treatment is the same as if it was not overdiagnosed. Therefore, you will be advised to have treatment, possibly including mastectomy (removal of the breast).