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

Sian Z. Williamson, Rebecca Johnson, Harbinder K. Sandhu, David R. Ellard, Jacquie Jenkins, Margaret Casey, Olive Kearins, Sian Taylor-Phillips*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    2 Citations (Scopus)


    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
    Article numbere028683
    JournalBMJ Open
    Issue number11
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2019

    Bibliographical note

    Funding Information:
    funding This research is part of a PhD award and is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Doctoral Training Centre at the University of Warwick. The funding has been awarded for this studentship to SZW for her PhD project for 4 years of full-time study. The award consists of payment of academic fees and a maintenance award. A further contract between the University of Warwick, Public Health England (PHE) and the PhD Student (SZW) has secured £4000 in research expenses. ST-P is funded by an NIHR Career Development Fellowship. The views expressed in this paper are those of the authors and not the NIHR, PHE, the Department of Health and Social Care, or the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). Competing interests None declared. Patient consent for publication Not required.

    Publisher Copyright:
    © Author(s) (or their employer(s)) 2019. Re-use permitted under CC BY. Published by BMJ.


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


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