I’m a Migrant, How Can I Get a Breast Cancer Check Up in Europe?

Pink October marks an important month for women around the world, we mark breast cancer awareness. The most commonly diagnosed cancer amongst the female population is breast cancer, which adds up to 1 in 4 yearly cancer cases around the world. 

The Europe region alone had 576,300 cases of breast cancer in the year 2020. If you’re a woman over the age of 40 you should strongly consider getting yearly checkups. If you have a family history and higher risk it’s recommended to check even younger as early as your 20’s. It’s becoming increasingly common for men to get breast cancer too, 1% of all breast cancers occur in men. So even men should be aware of finding unusual lumps. 

As a migrant in Europe, navigating your way around the healthcare system might be confusing. Whether you’re in the UK, Germany, France, the Netherlands, Portugal, Malta, Ireland, Italy, Spain, or Belgium, there are ways for you to get checked.  

What do breast cancer checkups usually involve?

Most countries usually use the method of screening involving a mammogram imaging device that can pick up growths in the breast area. Usually, the mammogram is carried out by a female radiographer. Two x-rays of each breast are taken, from different angles. The breast is flattened between two special plates. Although this may result in discomfort or slight pain it doesn’t cause harm to the breast. The more the breast is flattened, the less x-ray radiation is produced, and the better the images will come out. The images are then interpreted by an expert doctor who will be able to find any unusual signs if there are any. 

How to get breast cancer checkups in the UK

The NHS Breast Screening Programme checks all women from the age of 50 to 70 for screening every 3 years. Basically, this does mean that some women might not have their first screening until they are 52 or 53 years old. The NHS is located all across the UK but some of the previous sites are in COVID ‘red’ zones and may be unavailable at this time. Check out their locations here. If you suspect any issues with your breasts don’t delay speaking to your GP so the check-up can be escalated. NHS treats all residents of the UK free of charge. The residence of the UK used to decide if someone has access to free NHS healthcare is known as ‘ordinary residence’. To be an ordinary resident in the UK, people from countries outside the European Economic Area (EEA) who are subject to immigration control must also carry the immigration status of ‘indefinite leave to remain.’ People who are not “ordinarily” residents in that sense in the UK may be required to pay for their health care. 

How to get breast cancer checkups in Germany

In Germany, women between the ages of 50 and 69 can get a free mammogram every two years. This benefit is aimed at documents residents or citizens of Germany. You can also get a check-up from your Gynecologist doctor through your insurer.  If you’re not sure which route to take, speak to your Gynecologist, they will direct you to best suit your risk and age group. A few cities and states now offer an “anonymer Krankenschein” (anonymous medical certificate). This is given by an independent refugee aid organization. The medical needs are assessed by a health professional from the organization along with the social situation of the individual and then issued either a medical treatment certificate or a health card, and they can be referred to a doctor or a hospital. 

How to get breast cancer checkups in Italy

With the government SSN health card, you need an appointment with your General Practitioner who will give you a referral for a mammogram, especially if you are under the age of 50. Note that sometimes setting up an appointment can take weeks or even months. so best to book ahead. All Italian regions have created screening programs that invite women aged 50-69 to have a screening mammogram. Healthcare is covered by the National Health Service (SSN) to which all residents even foreign residents have access too. To sign up to SSN or learn more click here.

How to get breast cancer checkups in France

Every two years, women over the age of 50 until 74 are invited to a free breast screening. Your public insurance will invite you to make an appointment every two years. The screening includes both a manual breast exam to detect any unusual signs and a mammogram test. Migrants in France even without papers,  still have the same rights to access the medical system as any French citizen. AME (state medical aid) helps those without papers with the financial costs. To learn more read here. 

How to get breast cancer checkups in Ireland

The Ireland healthcare system (HSE) invites women who are registered in the healthcare system over the age of 50 to get a breast screening, which involves having a mammogram of your breasts at a BreastCheck clinic or mobile screening unit. Your first reminder will depend on when screening is available in your area, which will happen within 2 years of your 50th birthday. You can check that your name is on the register or update your details with the national breast screening program. HSE considers people living in Ireland for at least one year to be ‘ordinarily resident’ and are entitled to either full eligibility (Category 1) or limited eligibility (Category 2) for health services. Migrants who have not been resident in Ireland for at least one year must prove to the HSE that it is their intention to stay for one year minimum in order to be eligible for health services. Dependants of such individuals must also contact the HSE to confirm their eligibility.

How to get breast cancer checkups in Malta

Mammogram breast checks are currently available to all women aged between 50 and 69 years of age every two and a half years. The screening mammogram is done at the National Screening Centre by a female radiographer to make you feel extra comfortable. Health care is mostly free of charge for all people living in Malta who are covered by the Maltese social security legislation.

How to get breast cancer checkups in the Netherlands

The National Breast Cancer Screening Programme is offered to women between 50 and 75 years of age. Once every 2 years, women in this age group are invited for a mammogram. It’s run by the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM). You will be invited to a screening centre close to you.  In the Netherlands, everyone must have compulsory public health insurance. If you are registered and pay social security you get health coverage, which is accessible for migrants too. Learn more here. 


How to get breast cancer checkups in Portugal

For breast cancer, mammography is recommended every 2 years from 50 to 69 years of age. Schedule an appointment with your GP doctor to get a referral. Portugal has free healthcare for all immigrants with residence permits and if you can prove you live there longer than 90 days you have access too. You need to schedule an appointment at the health center in your area of residence to obtain the referral for the examination.

How to get breast cancer checkups in Spain

Spain’s health authorities will invite women between the ages of 50 and 65 to a breast cancer screening, including a mammogram, every two years. Local health clinics host the breast cancer screening program, but they are not the only place where you can get tested. If you don’t receive a letter, you can visit your local health clinic and doctor to ensure you are included in the program. In 2018, the Spanish Congres approved a law that says from “the first day that a person resides in Spain, she or he will get access to the healthcare system irrespective of whether or not this person has registered with a municipality. Social security cards, which can only be obtained with receipt of a labor contract, will also no longer be a prerequisite for access to health care.” More information can be found here. 

How to get breast cancer checkups in Belgium

Belgium’s breast cancer screening program is responsible for inviting women aged between 50-69 years old for mammograms every 2 years. If you’re unsure about the tests you can contact your GP doctor. For more information see here.  If you live and work in the country, you need to register for social security in Belgium and also make health insurance payments. Healthcare is then reached through health insurance in Belgium which will then grant you access to subsidized public healthcare. Unfortunately, those who 

Early detection saves lives. Early-stage detection cases have a 93% or higher survival rate in the first 5 years. So if you’re in the risk age group or have a family history of breast cancer or ovarian cancer, don’t hesitate to book a check-up. 

If you live in a country not mentioned above, you can see more countries listed here. If you suspect any unusual lumps in your breast or chest, even as a male go to your GP doctor and ask to be checked as soon as possible and they will consult. 

You can always do a home breast check more often than mammogram programs offer. Here is a great guide on doing a self-check-up. Even though many of us are so used to taking care of others, even for a living, you should never forget to take care of yourself first and get checked.