Breast cancer screenings

Who do we invite to the screening? 

In Estonia, women aged 50–69 are screened for the early detection of breast cancer. In 2022, insured and uninsured women born in 1954, 1956, 1958, 1960, 1962, 1964, 1966, 1968, 1970 and 1972 are invited to breast cancer screening. If they wish, all women of the said age group can come to the Medical Centre for the screening. Many women do not come to the screening because they have not received an invitation. It is not necessary to have an invitation or a referral to undergo the screening. It should be two years after the last breast cancer screening. 

Women who are either younger or older than the target group of the screening should contact a family physician or a gynaecologist in case of breast-related complaints, who will perform the initial examination and, if necessary, refer the patient to further breast studies. 

The screening is free of charge (health insurance is not necessary).  

Why come to breast cancer screening? 

Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer in women, and continues to be the number one cancer site for women in Estonia. Screening plays the most important role in the early detection of breast cancer. Breast cancer screening is an examination of women of a certain age group, mostly without any complaints, to detect breast cancer at an early stage when it is not yet possible to detect the disease with other tests. 

Although the target group of the screening could be wider, the frequency of breast cancer is the highest among those aged 50–69 years – breast cancer is found in 4–6 women per thousand screenings via a breast X-ray examination, or mammography. Research conducted around the world indicates that screening can reduce the mortality rate of women with breast cancer by 30–35%. Out of every hundred women who could otherwise die from breast cancer, thirty-five will survive thanks to screening! 

Why come to the Medical Centre for the screening? 

The Oncology and Haematology Clinic of the Medical Centre is the competence centre for cancer treatment in Northern Estonia. In addition to oncologists and surgeons, the Medical Centre employs experienced radiologists, who have a good co-operative and feedback relationship with the surgeons who perform breast surgeries, chemotherapy and radiotherapy physicians, and pathologists. Teamwork between diagnostic imaging physicians and attending physicians is very important in ensuring the quality of the screening. 

Our radiologists also evaluate the screening images of women who have been screened in Pärnu and Narva, as well as perform further tests with them, if necessary. Breast cancer screenings no longer have a residence restriction, and women from all across Estonia can come to the Medical Centre for their screening if they wish. 

The Medical Centre uses new state-of-the-art mammographic x-ray systems with a digital receptor plate, which has a digital stereotactic biopsy system that can be used to clarify the diagnosis in difficult cases. This type of differential diagnosis is only used in the Medical Centre in Northern Estonia. 

The Medical Centre was the first in Estonia to perform magnetic resonance imaging of the mammary gland. Today, magnetic tomography is an irreplaceable method for selecting the most optimal treatment option in the case of changes in the breast, including planning breast-conserving surgery. 

The sentinel lymph node examination, another test performed in the Medical Centre, also helps to achieve a smaller surgical volume in case of breast surgeries. If possible, our surgeons also use a surgical technique where breast reconstruction is performed during the same step as the removal of the tumour, thus achieving the best cosmetic and psychological effect. 

Where to come for the screening? 

Breast cancer screening takes place at the new mammography premises of the X-block of the North Estonia Medical Centre (19 Sütiste, Tallinn). You can register for the screening by calling 617 2405 and 5300 6334 on Monday to Friday at 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. 

In addition to the Mustamäe block of the Medical Centre, the women of Lääne County can also visit the Läänemaa Hospital for their screening. You can register for the screening by calling the Läänemaa Hospital reception at 472 5800 from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., or the X-ray office at 472 5877.  

Radiologists at the Medical Centre also evaluate the breast images of women who have been screened at the Narva Hospital (5 Haigla, Narva). 

You can register for the screening in Narva from Monday to Friday at 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. by calling 356 1144. No referral is required. 

Useful tips 

How to prepare for the screening? 

For clothing, choose a skirt or pants and a blouse, because you will have to undress to the waist during the screening. 

Do not use deodorant, body powder, or body lotion on the day of the screening, as they may affect the quality of the X-ray image. 

Women who are still menstruating should be screened between the 5th and 15th day of their cycle because then the breasts are not too tender or sensitive. 

What will happen during the screening? 

You will be asked to undress to the waist and the X-ray nurse will lead you to the mammographic X-ray system. There, the nurse will place your breasts in turn between two flat plates and take an X-ray of each breast in two directions. 

How long will the screening last? 

The X-ray imaging takes a few minutes. The entire visit, including the drawing up of documents, lasts 15–20 minutes. 

Is the screening painful? 

The examination can be uncomfortable as the breast is firmly pressed between two flat plates for a few seconds. Some women find it painful. If you feel pain, tell the nurse immediately, because your comfort is very important. 

When will I get the results? 

We will send the results of the screening to you within two weeks either by e-mail or by post. If you require further tests, this will also be communicated in the letter. 

Being invited back does not mean you have breast cancer – it is detected only in a small percentage of women who are invited back. If you are invited back, an additional X-ray image may be taken with magnification of a specific area of the breast. If necessary, the breasts are examined with ultrasound or a tissue sample is taken. Additional tests are performed to determine whether you have breast cancer and what treatment you require. 

Is screening able to detect all breast cancers? 

A breast X-ray detects most breast cancers. Regular screening is the best way to detect breast cancer early, before it shows any symptoms. 

What if breast cancer is found? 

Breast cancer is found in a small proportion of the women examined, who then begin to receive special treatment. A physician explains the treatment options to them. 

You can also get information from the websites www.rinnavahk.ee, www.cancer.ee, and from the free of charge helpline of the Estonian Cancer Society at 800 2233 (Monday–Friday at 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. and 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.). 

How often should you go undergo screening? 

We recommend a mammographic examination once every two years. If you notice a discharge from the nipple, a change in the shape of the breast or a formation in the mammary gland, do not wait for an invitation to the screening – get in contact with your family physician or gynaecologist, who will refer you to examinations, without delay. 

Can the screening be harmful to health? 

The screening is safe for health as a very small dose of radiation is used to perform mammography. 

What can a person do on their own to detect breast cancer early? 

All women should have their breasts examined regularly, as breast cancer can also develop between two screenings. 

If you notice anything out of the ordinary – knots or lumps in the breast, discharge from the nipple, change in the size or shape of the breast, indentation of the nipple and changes in the skin, redness of the breast, enlargement of the lymph nodes under the armpit – get in contact with your family physician or gynaecologist immediately. 

Once a month (after menstruation), the breasts should be examined and palpated in order to consult a physician as soon as possible if a lump is found. 

A medical examination of the breasts by a family physician or gynaecologist at least once a year is also recommended. 

In 2022, insured and uninsured women born in 1954, 1956, 1958, 1960, 1962, 1964, 1966, 1968, 1970 and 1972 are invited to breast cancer screening. The screenings take place in the new mammography premises of the X-block of the Medical Centre (19 Sütiste, Tallinn). 

You can register for the screening by calling 617 2405 and 5300 6334 on Monday to Friday at 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.  

‘The North Estonia Medical Centre has introduced a new 3D mammographic x-ray system, which enables reliable examination of the breasts of younger women as well. In the radiology centre of the Medical Centre, a new mammography device for tomosynthesis has been in operation since the beginning of October, which enables, in addition to conventional mammography, performing tomosynthesis of the breast, taking a tomobiopsy of the selected breast layer and localisation of the foci based on the tomosynthesis images, installing clips for marking the tumour foci (before neoadjuvant treatment), and performing preoperative wire marking of the breast foci.’ Read the full news here: ‘Uudne 3D mammograafia aitab rinnavähki veelgi täpsemalt avastada’ (Innovative 3D mammography helps detect breast cancer with even more accuracy)