Jane Clarke: breast cancer screening saves lives

The NHS Breast Cancer Campaign with Elaine C Smith.
The NHS Breast Cancer Campaign with Elaine C Smith.
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GOOD health is something most of us take for granted. With people living increasingly busy lives, we’re all guilty of not taking time out to look after ourselves. As someone who works for the NHS, I see it all the time.

However, going along to a breast screening appointment is something women should make time for – simply because it saves lives. Around 130 lives in fact, every single year in Scotland.

Women are five times more likely to survive breast cancer if it’s diagnosed and treated at the earliest stage, which is why I’m urging eligible women not to ignore their breast screening appointment letter when it drops through their letterbox.

If you are aged between 50 and 70, your local Breast Screening Centre will invite you for an appointment once every three years which means you may be nearly 53 before you get your first appointment. With the appointment letter comes information on what will happen at the mammogram so you can have all the facts and feel prepared.

The mammogram itself takes around ten minutes and can detect tiny cancers that neither women nor health professionals can see or feel.

Of course people feel anxious and nervous about screening as it involves an intimate procedure, but the mammographers do a fantastic job of putting people at ease. Although the X-rays involve a little squeeze of pressure which can cause discomfort, it only lasts a few seconds and everything possible is done to make sure things go smoothly.

The majority of women are told their mammograms are clear, but a small number – around one in 20 – are called back for further tests.

Technology has come on a long way in the last few years and at the South East Scotland Breast Screening Centre we’re proud to be one of the first in Scotland to provide a fully digital mammography service. Around 187,000 women in the Lothians, Borders, Fife and Forth Valley benefit from this service.

Whilst screening is the best way to detect breast cancer early, it’s just as important to be aware of changes to your breasts between screenings. If you spot anything unusual, don’t delay in making an appointment with your GP.

Also, if you’re reading this and are worried that you haven’t attended a screening appointment in the past two years, don’t worry, you can contact your local Breast Screening Centre to reschedule.

Help is there and the statistics speak for themselves. Don’t get scared, for your health and peace of mind, take the time to get screened.

For more information about the Scottish National Breast Screening Programme, visit www.get
checkedearly.org, where you can also see a video of what happens at a screening appointment with Elaine C Smith, or call NHS Inform on 0800 22 44 88.

Janet Clarke is clinical lead for South East Scotland Breast Screening Programme and Mammography at the Western General Hospital