BreastCheck - The National Breast Screening Programme is a Government funded breast screening service that provides free breast x-rays (mammograms) to women aged 50 to 64. It aims to provide an effective screening service to the highest possible quality, so that the maximum number of breast cancers can be detected at the earliest possible stage. BreastCheck aims to reduce the number of deaths from breast cancer in Ireland amongst women aged 50 to 64.
BreastCheck invites women aged 50 to 64 for screening, by personal invitation every two years. The programme screens on an area-by-area basis reflective of electoral divisions. Screening of women in the North East, East, Midlands and parts of the South-East is managed by the BreastCheck Eccles Unit, located on the campus of the Mater Misericordiae University Hospital and the BreastCheck Merrion Unit, located at St Vincent’s University Hospital. These units and an additional eight mobile digital screening units provide the service to approximately 185,000 eligible women aged 50 to 64.
The BreastCheck Southern Unit located at the South Infirmary Victoria University Hospital, Cork and four mobile digital screening units provide the service to eligible women living in Counties Cork, Kerry, Limerick, Waterford and Tipperary South. The BreastCheck Western Unit based at University College Hospital Galway and four mobile digital screening units provide the service to women living in Counties Clare, Donegal, Leitrim, Mayo, Roscommon, Sligo and Tipperary North.
BreastCheck's quality standards are clearly outlined in the BreastCheck Quality Assurance Manual and its Women's Charter.These standards adhere to internationally accepted guidelines. BreastCheck operates a multi-disciplinary team approach to the screening of women involving specialist clinicians, radiographers and breast care nurses. The service includes screening mammography, diagnosis and primary treatment.
On completion of national expansion of the breast screening programme the upper age limit will be extended to women aged 69, in accordance with the European Council's recommendation and the National Cancer Control Strategy and subject to additional resources being made available.
In April 2008, BreastCheck became the first national screening service provider worldwide to offer a fully digital mammography service. The decision to transfer to full digital mammography was taken following a successful pilot programme that demonstrated significant improvements in diagnostic accuracy, particularly for women with denser breast tissue. BreastCheck introduced digital mammography on a trial basis in 2005 and based on the success of this pilot, the entire BreastCheck screening operation has since been transferred to digital mammography.
To ensure digital mammography reached the high level, quality assured standards that BreastCheck operates within, revised QA processes and measurements were introduced and implemented across the organisation. As part of the transition, a new PACS (picture archive and communication system) was developed and extended to enable image management across the entire enterprise. During the process of transferring to digital mammography, BreastCheck replaced all existing conventional x-ray units with digital mammography machinery.