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Coronavirus and screening programmes

The NHS Scotland national screening programmes are now in the process of resuming safely, carefully and in a series of stages.

Resuming breast screening 

From 3 August 2020, the breast screening service will resume.

Letters of invitation will start to be sent from 13 July 2020 to anyone who was invited for breast screening before the pause:

  • who was unable to attend for any reason
  • who had an appointment cancelled. 

Screening invitations will slowly start to resume. It will take some time to fully restore the service.  

Breast screening 

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. 

In 2016, the Clinical Standards for Breast Screening (external website) published in 2002 were identified by Healthcare Improvement Scotland for revision.

  • 1 in 8 women in Scotland will develop breast cancer.
  • Due to improved detection and treatment options, survival has significantly increased over the last 30 years.
  • Women are 5 times more likely to survive breast cancer if caught early.
  • 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 website) 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 website) has more information on breast screening incidence, mortality and screening trends over time. 

Breast 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 (PDF, 1.71 MB) (external website) '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 website) 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 website). 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 other languages and Easy Read format.

Information for the public

NHS inform provides breast screening information for the public. This includes information in audio format.