Breast screening: quality assurance guidelines for breast pathology services

Guidelines for generating consistent pathological data from breast screening services.



The quality of pathology services is central to the delivery of high-quality breast screening services because the definitive diagnosis of cancer and its subsequent classification are in most cases determined by pathologists.

In addition to their role in monitoring the breast screening programme and supporting patients and their treatment, pathology data contribute to surgical, radiological and pathological audit, future pathology review, cancer standards audit, and clinical research. The quality of this data depends on the expertise of pathologists and the techniques and reporting methods they employ.

To generate high-quality pathological data and achieve the standards required by the NHS breast screening programme (BSP), pathologists need to be able to draw on appropriate managerial and administrative support and to rely on robust quality assurance (QA) processes.

This document has been updated to reference current guidance and includes new information on:

  • vacuum-assisted biopsies and excisions
  • the minimum number of assays per year for estrogen receptor (ER) and human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2)
  • expected turnaround times for non-operative and surgical specimens
  • the requirement for breast pathologists to report at least 30 non-operative specimens over a 3-year period
  • roles and responsibilities of breast pathologists and lead pathologists
  • updated QA processes

Contact the PHE Screening helpdesk with any queries about this publication, making sure you include its full title.

Published 1 July 2011
Last updated 28 September 2020 + show all updates
  1. Updated guidelines.

  2. First published.