Breast screening is the checking of a woman’s breasts for cancer before there are signs or symptoms of the disease. The aim of screening is to identify cancers when they are too small to see or feel.
The program is managed by the GHA Radiology Department as mammography is the best imaging method to detect these cancers.
In Gibraltar, women between the ages 40 and 70 are invited for screening mammograms at 2-yearly intervals.
Ladies above the age of 70 are not routinely invited for screening but can easily approach the GHA’s Radiology Department to ask for a screening mammogram if they wish to participate.
Women with a strong family history of breast cancer will be assessed in a separate Breast Cancer Family History Clinic run by the GHA’s Breast care Nurses in the Surgical Outpatient Department. A risk assessment is carried out and some women may qualify for annual screening mammograms.
What is Breast cancer?
Breast cancer is a disease in which some of the cells of the breast grow rapidly and abnormally; there are different kinds of breast cancer which vary depending on the type of cells affected.
For Your Breast Screening Appointment
Report to the Radiology Department reception and wait to be called in for your mammogram. A female radiographer specialised in breast imaging will explain the procedure, take your medical history and perform your mammogram.
The entire procedure takes approximately 30 minutes.
If the mammographer detects a breast problem during the examination (for example, if she feels a lump), you will be referred to the breast clinic in the Surgical Outpatient Department for an assessment.
Breast screening targets only asymptomatic ladies, without any breast problems.
Images captured are sent for reporting and you can expect to get results within 4 weeks.
Based on these results, a small number of ladies may be called back for further imaging due to technical challenges or to assess changes seen on the mammogram.
Further imaging assessments are performed locally in St Bernard’s Hospital by an experienced Consultant Breast Radiologist. This will usually require further mammograms and/ or an ultrasound of the breast.
If suspicious changes are identified during the assessment, a biopsy will be performed and samples sent to the Pathology Department.
The biopsy result is usually issued in around two weeks at which point you will be contacted for an appointment (with the Consultant Breast Radiologist in the Radiology Department).
Reducing your risk
At present, there is no way to completely eliminate the risk of developing breast cancer; but there are many ways to significantly reduce your risk:
- Embrace a healthy lifestyle- make more time to exercise, maintain a healthy weight, eat more of fresh foods and less of processed ones (particularly processed meats)
- Avoid smoking and exposure to second-hand smoke
- Limit alcohol intake (not more than 14 units per week)
- Limit additional use of hormones. Discuss the use of HRT and oral contraceptives (containing synthetic oestrogen and progestin) with your GP
- Breastfeeding plays a role in reducing risk, current advice is to breastfeed to at least 1 year of age
Remember, if you notice any changes to your breasts, any lumps you are not sure about, or have any queries at all do not wait to be screened, go directly to your GP or nurse practitioner. Though less common, men can also suffer from breast cancer, so it is necessary to be aware of what is “normal” for you and act upon any unexpected changes.
Breast Self -Examination
Breast self-examination is a great way to understand what looks and feels normal for your breasts, and will help you to detect any changes promptly. Recommendations are to check on a monthly basis, preferably after your monthly cycle. It is easier to carry out with soapy hands in front of a mirror. Most breast lumps are not cancerous, but it is always advisable to have them checked by a doctor or breast care nurse.
For more information see BreastCancerCare.org.uk or download an informative leaflet directly below: