Call for women to attend breast screening appointments

At the start of a new year, when women across the Western Isles are trying to keep to pledges to improve their health and wellbeing, make sure that you make every effort to stick to at least one vital new year’s resolution that could just save your life – attend your routine breast screening appointment.

All Western Isles women aged between 50 and 70 are being urged to attend their routine breast screening appointment when the breast screening unit visits the Isles for a number of months from the end of January.

All eligible ladies - those aged between 50 and 70 - will receive an invitation letter from the Breast Screening Team. The team visits the Western Isles every three years, so it is important that women attend their appointment, where possible. Women aged 71 and over are also encouraged to attend through self referral by contacting the Breast Screening Centre in Inverness on 01463 705416.

Over recent months, NHS Western Isles has promoted the importance of checking your breasts regularly as part of the national Detect Cancer Early campaign. Being aware of the signs and symptoms of breast cancer is vital to detecting cancer early and ultimately saving lives. In fact, you’re five times more likely to survive breast cancer if it’s diagnosed and treated at the earliest stage.

Alongside self-checking, breast screening plays a vital role in detecting cancer at an early stage before symptoms become noticeable; and is particularly important as breast cancer is more common in women aged over 50.

Breast screening involves taking an x-ray (mammogram) of the breast. Two views of each breast will be taken to ensure all parts of the breast tissue can be examined. Your mammograms will be assessed by specialist clinical staff. You will receive your result by post within three weeks of your appointment, and your GP will also be notified of the result. Most women will be invited again in three years time as part of the routine screening process. You may be invited back for further tests, which could mean that your mammogram is showing an area the doctors would like to image more clearly.

The mobile unit will be in Stornoway (Western Isles Hospital car park) from January 27 until April 25, in Harris from April 28 until May 9 and in Barra from May 12 until May 16 (all dates may vary slightly). The dates for the visit to Benbecula will be confirmed shortly.

Two breast screening sessions per day are operated; one in the morning and one in the afternoon. Session times are generally 9am - 1pm and 2pm - 5pm, although this can vary slightly. The appointment will usually take no more than half an hour and the mammogram itself takes only a few minutes.

NHS Western Isles Breast and Lymphoedema Nurse, Hazel Hebditch, explained: “All women aged between 50 and 70 receive a letter so please do not be concerned when an invitation arrives inviting you for a breast screening appointment. If you are eligible and have not been contacted, you should contact the Breast Screening Centre in Inverness on 01463 705416. Most ladies should have had an appointment by their 53rd birthday. All appointments will be carried out on the mobile breast screening unit. Any patients not able to attend during the visit to the Western Isles are asked to contact the screening centre in Inverness to let them know you will be unable to attend. You will be able to have breast screening carried out in the centre in Inverness and are encouraged to contact the centre in Inverness to arrange for a suitable time and date.”She continued: “The mammogram stage of the breast screening process is carried out by female staff only (mammographers). The mammographer will ask you a few questions and will explain what will happen next. You can ask your mammographer questions at any time. You will be asked to undress from the waist up, it may therefore be more comfortable to wear a skirt or trousers. Privacy is respected at all times and you can cover up with your own top when you aren’t having the mammogram itself. You are welcome to bring someone along with you if you would find it helpful but please note that men are not allowed to enter the mobile unit.”

Convenor of the Lewis and Harris Breast Cancer Support Group Mary Macleod said: “The vast majority of results are clear, however it is vitally important that women attend their screening appointments to make sure that, if cancer is detected, it is picked up as early as possible. We would strongly urge all women over 50 to attend a screening appointment.”

Martin Malcolm, NHS Western Isles Interim Cervical and Breast Screening Coordinator, added: “We know that if breast cancer is found at an early stage, treatment has the greatest chance of being successful. The best way of doing this is by having regular mammograms, as you may not be able to see or feel any early changes to your breasts. Breast cancer can affect any woman, and it affects one in 10 Scottish women at some time in their life.”

Around five in 100 women will be invited to a second stage of screening to attend an appointment for further tests. It is important to remember that the vast majority of those invited back are found to be clear of any breast disease and will be returned to routine recall.

If you have any queries, or have not yet received an appointment, contact the Breast Screening Centre in Inverness on 01463 705416.