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HSE encourages women to take up first breast screening invitation

 Angela Walton from Ballyleague, Co Roscommon, who was diagnosed with breast cancer following the routine mammogram at her first screening with BreastCheck in March 2023.

“I consider myself incredibly lucky that I had my breast screening mammogram when I did,” according to Angela Walton from Ballyleague, Co Roscommon, who was diagnosed with breast cancer following the routine mammogram at her first screening with BreastCheck in March 2023.

Sharing her story as part of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Angela explains that she was “amazed at the number of women who have had similar experiences as me. I’ve been shocked at the number of women I have met who have not checked the register to make sure they will get their invitation for screening.

“I was lucky that my mammogram identified a tumour, still too small to feel, and yet, one cancer cell had entered a lymph node. If I had had my screening earlier it might not have shown up on the mammogram. And then if I had delayed going for screening, my treatment plan and diagnosis would most likely be very different. My message to women is to check the register and when you get your invitation go for your screening. For me, the outlook is positive.”

Breast cancer is the second most common cancer in women in Ireland and a 2023 national survey for BreastCheck found that 48% of Irish adults have either been personally affected by or have had someone close to them affected by breast cancer.

The HSE’s BreastCheck programme is encouraging women to choose screening and take up their BreastCheck appointment when they are invited. Breast screening helps find breast cancer early. Around 3,500 women are diagnosed with breast cancer in Ireland every year and about a third of these people will have cancer detected through screening.

BreastCheck Programme Manager Suzanne Lynch explained that “we know that women may have questions about breast cancer screening and this Breast Cancer Awareness Month we want to give them all the information they need to help them to choose screening – especially women who are being offered breast screening for the first time. Women can expect their first appointment between the age of 50 and 53. We are particularly keen for women to take up this appointment because it is an age when we know women are less likely to attend. We also know that when a woman comes for one screening test, she is likely to come back regularly. And recent research has found that women who develop breast cancer have a stronger survival rate if they have regularly taken part in screening.”

Suzanne added:

“If you can’t attend your appointment, please let us know so we can offer the appointment to another woman who is waiting for screening. Contact us and we can rearrange your appointment for a time that suits you. Your details should be on our register and you can check all your details are there by visiting”

According to BreastCheck Clinical Director Professor Fidelma Flanagan, “every very year we screen about 170,000 women and detect about 1,100 cancer cases. While we know that most people’s screening results are normal and no cancer is found, for some women, a fear of finding something wrong may stop them from coming for screening. Our national survey earlier this year found that 59% of women identified a “fear of finding something wrong” as one of the reasons they wouldn’t come for screening.

“However, screening can help to find cancer early, when it may be easier to treat, giving you a better chance of recovery. But I have to emphasise that screening is not for women with symptoms of cancer. If any woman is worried that something may be wrong, do not wait for your screening appointment - go to your GP immediately.”

Prof Flanagan further explained that "breast screening aims to find changes in your breast, at an early stage, and reduce the number of new cases and deaths associated with breast cancer. It’s important for women also to be aware that no screening programme will detect every cancer. So as well as regularly attending screening, we should all be breast aware and know what is normal for each of us and know the symptoms to watch out for.”

Rachel Morrogh, Director of Advocacy at the Irish Cancer Society explained how ‘’BreastCheck has contributed significantly to improvements in breast cancer survival.  Finding cancer as early as possible can help save lives, which is why we are urging people to accept and attend their breast screening appointment when invited. We're particularly appealing to women who are offered breast screening for the first time. It’s really important that women who are eligible for this free service prioritise and find time for an appointment.

“We are mindful of all the competing demands we know women face, such as work and family commitments, but making time for this appointment could make a real difference in terms of your future health. Anyone with a concern or query about cancer or screening can also contact our Irish Cancer Society nurses on our Freephone Support Line at 1800 200 700 or, where they will receive free, non-judgmental information and advice.”

If you have symptoms of breast cancer, do not wait for your screening appointment - contact your GP without delay. These symptoms are:

  • any lumps or unusual thickening in either breast
  • dimpling, puckering or redness of the skin
  • a nipple that appears to be pulled-in or flattened
  • a rash or flaky or crusted skin around either nipple
  • a change in the size or shape of your breast
  • swelling in your armpit or around your collarbone