Population screening programmes – guidance

Breast screening: programme overview

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

Screening is the process of identifying people who appear healthy but may be at increased risk of a disease or condition.

The NHS breast screening programme (BSP) is an NHS population screening programme.

Screening is different to diagnosis and there will always be some false positive and false negative results.

The NHS BSP offers screening to all women aged 50 to 70.

NHS Choices has more information for patients, including:

  • an introduction to the disease
  • symptoms
  • incidence
  • mortality rates

Information leaflets

Healthcare professionals can use leaflets to explain the programme to women.

Evidence and recommendations

The UK National Screening Committee (UK NSC) assesses evidence and makes recommendations for population screening programmes to the 4 UK governments.

Providing prompt care

Healthcare professionals must use the BSP professional documents to give a consistent and competent service.


All commissioners must follow the service specification and supporting documents to ensure a fit for purpose programme is set up.

Screening invitations

Eligible women, aged 50 to 70, receive an invitation letter explaining:

  • the programme
  • the benefits and risks of breast screening

Women do not always receive an invitation when they turn 50. They can expect their invitation within 3 years of of their 50th birthday.

Women cannot walk in and request breast screening unless they are over 70, when they can request screening every 3 years.

Age extension

In some areas, women aged 47 to 49 and 71 to 73 receive invitations for screening. This is part of a study looking at whether to extend the breast screening age range.

Higher risk women

Women identified as having a higher risk of breast cancer should receive:

  • a formal assessment
  • the opportunity to discuss risk management options


Healthcare professionals can use the breast screening online learning modules and training resources to learn about the screening process and keep their knowledge up to date.

Contact the screening team

NHS cancer screening programmes

Fulwood House
Old Fulwood Road

S10 3TH