Communicating biopsy results from breast screening assessment:: current practice in English breast screening centres and staff perspectives of telephoning results

Sian Williamson, Rebecca Johnson, Harbinder Sandhu, David Ellard, Jacquie Jenkins, Margaret Casey, Olive Kearins, Sian Taylor Phillips

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective To record how breast screening centres in England deliver all biopsy results (cancer/non-cancer) from the breast assessment visit. Design Online survey of 63 of 79 breast screening centres in England from all regions (East Midlands, East of England, London, North East Yorkshire & Humber, North West, South East, South West, West Midlands). The survey contained quantitative measures of frequency for telephoning biopsy results (routinely, occasionally or never) and optional qualitative free-text responses. Surveys were completed by a staff member from each centre. Results There were no regional trends in the use of telephone results services, (X² (14, n=63)=11.55, p=0.64), Centres who telephoned results routinely did not deliver results sooner than centres who deliver results in-person (X² (16, n=63)=12.76, p=0.69). When delivering cancer results, 76.2% of centres never telephone results and 23.8% of centres occasionally telephone results. No centres reported delivering cancer results routinely by telephone. Qualitative content analysis suggests that cancer results are only telephoned at the patient request and under exceptional circumstances. When delivering non-cancer results, 12.7% of centres never telephoned results, 38.1% occasionally telephoned results and 49.2% routinely telephoned results. Qualitative content analysis revealed different processes for delivering telephone results, including patient choice and scheduling an in-person results appointment for all women attending breast assessment, then ringing non-cancer results unexpectedly ahead of this prebooked appointment. Conclusions In the National Health Service Breast Screening Programme, breast assessment results that are cancer are routinely delivered in-person. However, non-cancer breast assessment results are often routinely delivered by telephone, despite breast screening policy recommendations. More research is needed to understand the impact of telephoning results on women attending breast assessment, particularly women who receive a non-cancer result. Future research should also consider how women themselves might prefer to receive their results.
Original languageEnglish
JournalBMJ open
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2019

Bibliographical note

This is an open access article distributed in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 Unported (CC BY 4.0) license, which permits others to copy, redistribute, remix, transform and build upon this work for any purpose, provided the original work is properly cited, a link to the licence is given, and indication of whether changes were made. See: licenses/by/4.0/.


  • health policy
  • preventive medicine
  • qualitative research
  • quality in health care


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