Decorative image

Diagnosis and screening research for breast cancer

Find out about the latest UK research into diagnosing and screening for breast cancer.

Researchers are interested in improving ways of:

  • screening for breast cancer in women without symptoms
  • diagnosing women with suspicious symptoms

All tests need to be researched until they become standard tests for everyone. This is so we can be sure they work better than the tests we already use. And so that we know they are safe.

Screening age range

The NHS Breast Screening Programme can help to find breast cancers early, when they are too small to see or feel.

In the UK, women are usually screened between the ages of 50 and 70. Doctors are looking at the age range for the NHS Breast Screening Programme. They want to know whether extending it reduces breast cancer deaths.

Researchers have looked at screening younger women aged between 40 and 49, who are at a high risk of breast cancer. The results showed that yearly mammograms found the cancer at an earlier stage and helped to save lives.

Doctors are now looking at whether yearly mammograms can help save the lives of women aged 35 to 39 who have an increased risk of breast cancer.

Finding women at higher risk

Researchers are looking for ways to identify women at risk of breast cancer when they come for routine screening such as extra tests. Researchers in one study hope to be able to accurately work out each woman’s risk of breast cancer.

The aim is that in the future each woman could be given appropriate advice on how to reduce their risk. Women at higher risk could perhaps be offered screening more often. This study has now closed and we are waiting for the results.

Blood tests

Doctors are also looking at different blood tests that could make breast cancer screening more accurate. These tests could reduce the number of women called back for tests after routine breast screening. Or help doctors diagnose breast cancer earlier.

Researchers are also looking for substances in the body that can help them to diagnose cancer, and to work out how well people are likely to respond to treatment. These substances are called biomarkers. The doctors look for biomarkers in blood and samples of tissue removed during surgery.

Breast x-rays (mammograms)

Doctors use breast x-rays called mammograms to screen for and diagnose breast cancer. Research is ongoing to find ways to improve mammograms including:

  • new types of mammograms such as 3D mammograms
  • using computers to read mammograms

Researchers have found that using one specialist and a computer to read a mammogram is as accurate as using two specialists to read the mammogram.

Screening breast ducts

Doctors are looking at new tests which take samples of fluid from the milk ducts. These tests might be an alternative to mammograms for younger women. The tests are called intraductal screening and include:

  • taking fluid from the nipple (nipple aspiration)
  • washing out the inside of the ducts (intraductal lavage)
  • looking inside breast tubes (duct endoscopy)

Researchers looking at duct endoscopy found that they could reach breast cancer through the opening of the nipple into the breast ducts. This means in the future, they may be able to diagnose or treat breast cancer through the ducts.

Clinical trials

Information and help