PUBLISHED ON: 2 May 2018

Today's shocking news about the failure of some automatic breast screening invitations to older women highlights the question of requesting screening once you pass the age at which you would normally be invited.

Missed breast screenings?

Women over the age of 70 are not sent invitations but they are still at risk of breast cancer and you have a right to ask for free breast screening every three years.

Just over 80% of breast cancers are in women who are over the age of 50. 

National breast screening programme

In the UK the NHS has a national breast screening programme inviting women to be screened for signs of breast cancer every three years from the age of 50 up to the age of 70.

In England some breast screening centres are taking part in a trial with an age range up to 73 to find out whether it would be beneficial to extend the age limit for all women in future.

Once over 70 you won’t normally be invited for screening, but this doesn't mean you're no longer at risk.

How screening helped Dorothy

As Dorothy Clark, now 85, told us in an interview for Vita magazine, ‘My husband and I were flying to Mauritius to board a cruise ship. I requested a mammogram before going [at age 79].

‘Imagine my shock when I returned home after holiday to find three letters asking me to return immediately to the clinic for further tests.

‘It was bad news. A biopsy confirmed I had breast cancer.’

Dorothy Clark

Dorothy goes on to tell readers about her experience of treatment and recovery, and ends by saying:

I want any older women diagnosed with breast cancer to know that they don’t have to give up. At 85 I have boundless energy and I’m travelling the world again with my husband.

Read more of Dorothy’s story

According to a YouGov survey for Breast Cancer Care, 51% of women surveyed didn't know that they could still request breast screening after they had stopped being invited.

As Dorothy’s experience makes clear, if you're over 70, you are still entitled to be screened every three years, but you have to ask for it. You can call your main local screening unit to make an appointment.

To find out about your local breast screening unit, ring our Helpline on the number below, search for details here or in Scotland dial 08454 242424. You can also ask your GP or practice nurse.

To help you decide whether to request screening or not, there’s an NHS Breast Screening Programme leaflet about the benefits and drawbacks.

If you notice any changes in your breast that aren't normal for you, speak to your GP as soon as possible. Whatever your age.

Speak to our breast care nurses for free on our Helpline on 0808 800 6000.

Call our Helpline