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Published: 22 February 2024

The crucial role of technical quality control in the BreastCheck programme for women who choose screening

By Niall Phelan, Medical Physicist, BreastCheck

Breast screening – taking a mammogram or x-ray of the breasts - plays a vital part in the early detection of breast cancer, significantly improving the chances of successful treatment outcomes for women.

For mammography to be effective as a screening test we need to maintain a high quality x-ray imaging process. In BreastCheck, we quality assure the screening process and patient journey with input from a multi-disciplinary team of radiographers, radiologists, nurses, medical physicists, surgeons, pathologists and administration staff.

What is technical quality control?

Medical physicists and radiographers oversee the technical quality control of x-ray imaging in BreastCheck.

Technical quality control is a critical aspect of our quality assurance process. It ensures screening images are of a consistent high standard, and it supports the reliability of the screening results.

Our quality control procedures comply with European guidelines and regulatory standards which ensure patient safety. The outcomes of our quality control procedures are used to support continual quality improvement in BreastCheck.

Quality control processes

BreastCheck is for women aged 50 to 69. It aims to find any changes in the breasts before a woman has any symptoms of breast cancer. Early detection depends on finding small and subtle changes within the normal breast tissue.

The images produced during screening must be clear, detailed and capable of showing subtle changes in the breast that might otherwise go unnoticed.

As part of our quality control processes our medical physicists:

  • Fine-tune the screening equipment to ensure we maintain a high-quality x-ray image.
  • Monitor the radiation dose from the breast x-ray to keep it as low as possible, ensuring patient safety without compromising image quality.

We do these comprehensive tests every six months, and follow-up with daily checks to identify any problems between the six-month testing. We also do these checks each time we move a mobile screening unit to a new place in case anything has changed in how the equipment is calibrated during the move.

This consistency is essential to ensure all women receive the same quality screening. It also enables us to compare mammograms over a period of time and track any changes.

The importance of breast compression

For many women, breast compression is the most uncomfortable, and sometimes painful aspect of breast screening. One of the most important factors in getting a high quality mammogram image is how much the breast is compressed during screening. Adequate compression is essential to ensure we have the maximum chance of finding subtle changes in the breast and is carefully monitored in the programme.

Continuous improvement

Taking breast images is a skilled role. BreastCheck radiographers have specialist training in breast imaging. All our radiographers take part in regular peer-review of their work to identify satisfactory performance and potential for improvement on an ongoing basis. These measures aim to ensure we are always improving the quality of our BreastCheck programme for women who choose breast screening.