Breast screening: programme overview

Read an overview of the NHS breast screening programme (BSP), and learn how to contact the programme.

Applies to England

Information for the public about breast screening is available on the NHS website and in the below video.

Female lifetime screening pathway

The video is also available with subtitles translated into the 10 most requested languages.

It is an individual’s choice whether or not to have screening. People can opt out if they do not want to receive screening invitations.

Public Health England (PHE) provides a range of guidance documents for professionals, and information leaflets for the public.

PHE is committed to reducing inequalities and variation in screening participation to help make sure everyone has fair and equal access to screening services.

PHE publishes information about patient confidentiality in population screening programmes.

Supporting documents for commissioners to ensure a fit for purpose programme is set up and meets the required standards can be found below.

Target population

In England, breast screening is currently offered to women aged 50 up to their 71st birthday.

The AgeX research trial has been looking at the effectiveness of offering some women one extra screen between the ages of 47 and 49, and one between the ages of 71 and 73.

Condition screened for

Breast cancer is a general term for cancer that begins in the breast. It is the most common type of cancer in the UK, where about 1 in 8 women are diagnosed with breast cancer during their lifetime. NHS.UK has more information on the:

  • symptoms of breast cancer
  • causes of breast cancer
  • treatment for breast cancer

Screening tests


Women invited for a breast screening have an X-rays (mammograms) at a clinic or mobile breast screening unit. A female mammographer carries out the mammogram.

Evidence base

Breast screening is one of 11 NHS population screening programmes available in England.

The UK National Screening Committee (UK NSC) makes recommendations to ministers in the 4 UK countries on all aspects of population screening. It ensures that screening provides more benefit than harm, at a reasonable cost to the NHS.

Recommendations are based on internationally recognised criteria and a rigorous evidence review process.

Read the UK NSC recommendation on breast cancer screening.

Data and intelligence

PHE collects routine data to monitor the uptake of breast cancer screening.

Requests for screening data and research

All requests for screening data need to be approved by the NHS Breast Screening Programme Research Advisory Committee

PHE also has terms of reference for NHS population screening programme research advisory committees.


PHE publishes the breast screening pathway requirements specification, which provides an overview of breast screening by describing what should happen at each stage of the end-to-end pathway. Providers and commissioners should use this to ensure high quality and consistent screening services.

Quality assurance

The role of the Screening Quality Assurance Service (SQAS) is to:

  • assess the quality of local screening programmes
  • monitor compliance with standards
  • support services with improving quality
  • undertake regional quality assurance visits

The programme specific operating model for quality assurance of the breast screening programme should be read in conjunction with the relevant programme standards.

Workforce – education and training

Education and training resources are available for healthcare professionals working in breast screening.

There are additional resources to support screening professionals in their initial training and continuing professional development (CPD).

Keep up to date

Visit the Public Health England (PHE) screening blog to keep up to date with what is new in the programme, including the latest guidance and good practice. You can register to receive blog updates direct to your inbox.

PHE Screening also has its own Twitter account, which provides information and news on all national screening programmes.

Contact the screening team

Population screening helpdesk

PHE Screening
Floor 5
Wellington House
133-155 Waterloo Road


Helpdesk phone number 020 3682 0890

The helpdesk is not for media enquiries and does not have access to screening results. For queries about results, contact your GP or local screening service. Order screening leaflets at

Published 1 June 2015
Last updated 17 March 2021 + show all updates
  1. Added lifetime screening pathway video.

  2. First published.