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**Please note, the following information is directed at Health Professionals. If you require general information about the Northern Ireland Cancer Screening programmes, please click here**

Coronavirus (Covid-19)

Very High Risk (VHR) Breast Surveillance Screening has continued throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. Women who are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, or are self-isolating, are advised not to attend their screening appointment and to contact the VHR Unit to reschedule.


The Very High Risk Breast Surveillance Screening Programme

Surveillance screening for women at very high risk of developing breast cancer was introduced in Northern Ireland in 2013.  In September 2020, the programme title was changed from the ‘Higher Risk Breast Surveillance Screening Programme’ to the ‘Very High Risk Breast Surveillance Screening Programme’, to reflect national guidance. This title change does not indicate any increase in cancer risk for those in the programme.

Women identified as being at very high risk (8 times greater relative risk compared to women in the general population) of developing breast cancer are referred into the programme.  They are then invited for annual MRI, mammography, or both depending on their age and the reason for their referral.  The VHR programme offers breast imaging at an earlier age than the routine Breast Screening Programme. The VHR Programme is managed and provided regionally at Antrim Area Hospital, in the Northern Health and Social Care Trust.


VHR Breast Screening Unit at Antrim Hospital:

Telephone:  028 9442 4426



Women who only require mammography surveillance screening can request to have this carried out at their local breast screening unit.

Results will be sent to the woman within 2-3 weeks of her attendance at the Breast Screening Unit.  Her GP and referrer will also get a copy.

There are 3 possible results:

Normal/ routine recall

If the result is normal the woman will be automatically invited for screening in one year’s time (unless they have reached their 71st birthday – see ‘when do women stop receiving invitations’).

Technical recall

This means the test(s) needs to be repeated for technical reasons only.


Around 7 in every 100 women screened in the VHR programme are called back for further assessment.  This is because the result suggests that further tests are needed. This does not necessarily mean there is something wrong


Self-examination between appointments

Breast cancer can develop between visits so it’s important for women to check their breasts regularly for changes.  They should become familiar with how their breasts normally look and feel to detect changes – see leaflet


Programme Management

The VHR Breast Screening Unit at Antrim Hospital is led by a radiologist with input from other radiologists, radiographers and administration support. The programme is managed in line with VHR Breast Surveillance Screening Operational Policy, NHSCT (updated January 2021), supported by a suite of Work Instructions.


Coordinating Group

The programme is overseen by a Coordinating Group, chaired by the Public Health Agency (PHA) Lead for the Breast Screening Programme. The Group meets twice per year (and by exception). The Group’s terms of reference and membership are available here.  A representative from BRCA Link NI (a voluntary organisation helping people to access information and support about BRCA genetic mutations) was involved from the outset in establishing the surveillance screening programme and sits on the Coordinating Group.