What happens at a breast clinic appointment?

Learn what to expect at a breast clinic appointment and why you may have been referred. Find out how you'll get your results and what to do if you’re worried.

1. Why have I been referred to a breast clinic?

Referral by a GP

Your GP may refer you to a breast clinic if you have a symptom or breast change that needs investigating.

The vast majority of people referred to a breast clinic do not have cancer. They may have normal breast changes or a benign (not cancer) condition.

However, the sooner breast cancer is diagnosed, the more successful treatment is likely to be. So it’s important to go to your appointment so you can be fully assessed.

GPs follow guidance when deciding whether to refer you to a breast clinic.

This guidance also outlines how quickly you should be seen, depending on your symptoms and your age.

Guidance differs depending on whether you live in England, Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland.

Recalled after a screening mammogram

About four women in a hundred are called back to a breast clinic after routine screening because they need more tests.

Something that may look unusual on your mammogram may be normal for you once it has been assessed. Most people who are recalled for assessment will not have breast cancer.

2. What to expect at your breast clinic appointment

At the breast clinic you may have a:

  • Breast examination: a doctor or nurse physically checks your breasts
  • Mammogram (breast x-ray) or ultrasound scan: produces an image of the inside of your breasts
  • Biopsy: a small amount of breast tissue is removed to be checked under a microscope

This is known as a triple assessment and may be needed to make a definite diagnosis.

Not everyone referred to a breast clinic will need an x-ray, scan or biopsy.

The order in which tests are done will vary between clinics. 

Visiting the breast clinic 

You can usually take someone with you for company or support. 

Some people prefer to go on their own. 

You may want to wear a top that’s easy to remove. 

How long will it take? 

Your visit to the breast clinic may take several hours so all the necessary tests can be carried out. 

Your assessment may be done in a one-stop clinic, where all tests are done during your visit to the clinic. 

In some cases, you may be asked to make another appointment to finish your tests. 

3. Getting your results

The breast clinic will let you know how and when you’ll get your results.

Some test results may be available later the same day, but if you have a biopsy you’ll have to wait a week, or possibly longer, for the results.

You may be given an appointment to return for your results, or you may get them over the phone or by letter.

However you get your results, you should be sent a letter that explains in simple language your results and any treatment you may need. Your GP will be sent a copy of this letter too.

If you’re given an appointment, it may be a good idea to have someone with you when you go. That way you can be sure there’s someone there for support, should you need it. They may also think of questions that hadn’t occurred to you and remember things you may forget.

It can be useful to take a notepad and pen to write down any information you want to remember later.

4. Coping with fear and anxiety

Having investigations for a breast problem can be very worrying and stressful.

Some people find it difficult to sleep or eat during this time.

It may help to remember that most people who are referred to a breast clinic do not have breast cancer.

Some people find knowing what to expect at their appointment helps them feel more in control.

If you’re anxious about your breast clinic appointment or would like to talk to someone about any concerns, you can call our free helpline below.

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Quality assurance

Last reviewed in November 2022. The next planned review begins in November 2024.

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