What is BreastCheck?

BreastCheck is the National Breast Screening Programme, aimed at detecting signs of breast cancer in Irish women. The service invites all women aged 50-64 for a free breast x-ray every two years.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer among Irish women, resulting in around 650 deaths each year. Ireland has one of the highest rates of mortality from breast cancer in the world. The aim of BreastCheck is to detect breast cancer as early as possible. If cancer is found early, treatment is more likely to be successful.

The vast majority of women screened under the BreastCheck programme are found to be perfectly healthy.

BreastCheck was launched in early 2000 and currently provides screening to women in the North-East, East, Midlands and South East Regions of the country. The current screening area is serviced by two Clinical Screening Units: the Eccles Screening Unit on the campus of the Mater Misericordiae University Hospital and the Merrion Screening Unit at St. Vincent's University Hospital. Attached to these Clinical Units are a total of six Mobile Screening Units.

National expansion

The BreastCheck scheme is being expanded nationally to offer screening to all eligible women throughout the Southern and Western regions of the country. Two new BreastCheck Clinical Units are being built to cater for the two regions in Cork and Galway respectively. The Units are expected to open by the end of 2007, subject to there being no unforeseen delays.

The BreastCheck Clinical Unit in the Southern Area will be located at the South Infirmary-Victoria Hospital, with four associated mobile screening units covering Cork, Kerry, Limerick, Waterford and Tipperary South Riding.

The Clinical Unit for the Western Area will be built at University College Hospital Galway, with three associated mobile screening units covering Galway, Sligo, Roscommon, Donegal, Mayo, Leitrim, Clare and Tipperary North Riding.

Should I have my breasts checked?

The BreastCheck programme currently only applies to women between the ages of 50 and 64. This age group was chosen for screening as they are at the highest risk of dying from breast cancer. All women in this age group will be invited to attend a mammogram every two years. Older and younger women are not being tested at this time.

Of course, if you ever detect any unusual lumps on your breasts, you should contact your doctor immediately. If you have had a mammogram done within the last year, or have had breast cancer in the past, contact your GP or consultant and they will advise you whether you should attend a BreastCheck screening. You can also contact BreastCheck on 1800 45 45 55, who will advise you if you should be screened.

What does a screening mammogram involve?

You will have to undress your upper body. Each of your breasts will then be x-rayed from the side and the top by a professional radiographer. The breast is placed on an x-ray plate and a lever compresses (flattens) the breast for a few seconds while the x-ray is being taken. Most women do not find the test painful, but can find it a little uncomfortable Ė it is often described as comparable to having blood pressure taken.

The mammogram itself is a low dose x-ray, and is considered quite safe. The entire visit should take about a half an hour, and most likely you will be screened by female staff, since currently all radiographers with BreastCheck are women.

When will I get my results?

Within three weeks of having the test done, results will be sent to your home address. The results will also be sent to your doctor. If your result is normal, you will be invited to attend another routine mammogram in two years time.

However, some mammograms may need to be looked at again, either because the picture is unclear or because some part of the breast needs further examination. If this is the case, you will be asked to attend an assessment clinic. In the vast majority of cases these further examinations are normal.

What happens if I am called to the assessment clinic?

If your first mammogram is inconclusive, you will be called to attend an assessment clinic. These take place at your nearest Clinical Screening Unity. These clinics are specially equipped and staffed to test for any sign of breast cancer.

If you are called to the assessment clinic, you may bring a friend with you. At the clinic, you will have some further tests, including a repeat mammogram. You may also have an ultrasound examination of the breast, a clinical examination by a doctor, or a fine needle aspiration or biopsy, which involves using a fine needle to remove a tiny sample of breast tissue for microscopic examination.

What if I donít get invited for a screening?

You may be outside the age range of the programme (50 to 64), or live outside the current screening area.

A small number of women may also not be on the BreastCheck register, which currently includes an estimated 98% of the women who should be screened. You can check if you are on the register by calling freephone 1800 45 45 55.

If you are eligible for screening and are not already on the register, you can submit a registration form to BreastCheck. These forms are available on request from BreastCheck and also at GP surgeries, pharmacies and other community settings. Women can also register online at


Reviewed: September 25, 2006

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