A breast radiologist is a qualified doctor specialising in evaluating and interpreting breast X-rays and other breast imaging techniques for benign and cancerous disease.
Throughout the UK, women between the ages of 50 and 70 are invited to undergo a routine mammogram every three years. This breast screening aims to identify early signs of breast cancer and improve chances of a cure. A breast radiologist is responsible for examining X-rays for diseases or abnormalities. Where necessary, radiologists will perform ultrasounds, biopsies and liaise with other specialists to recommend treatments and monitor patient progress.
Additional symptomatic work for patients suffering from breast lumps and/or pain requires the same process.
It is a specialist position which requires a degree in medicine, an excellent scientific mind and strong people skills. According to statistics, 7 out of 1000 screenings identify breast cancer. Breast radiologists are expected to liaise closely with all their patients in a diligent, compassionate and sensitive manner. They must understand the needs of their patients and take responsibility for managing their progress.
Breast radiologists play a vital role in cancer care, striving to accurately diagnose early cases of this disease, providing treatment to improve chances of recovery and reduce the chances of it spreading elsewhere.
The basic salary for radiologists undertaking specialist training can be in the region of £29,000 to £44,000 per annum, depending on the role and location.
Consultant radiologists can earn upwards of £70,000 whilst senior consultants can expect to earn in excess of £160,000.
It is worth checking with your employer to see if you qualify for any additional banding supplements.
- To study complex mammograms and identify tumours or abnormalities.
- Perform ultrasounds of the breast.
- Use new technologies in breast cancer treatment.
- Undertake guided biopsies and cyst aspirations.
- Perform localisation wire techniques for impalpable small cancers to aid surgical removal.
- Liaise with other specialists, such as the breast surgeon, radiation therapists and breast pathologists regarding patient treatments.
- To deliver good and bad news to patients and their families in an empathetic and sensitive manner.
- Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS).
- Foundation Year 2 Programme (FY2): a compulsory two year training programme undertaken by doctors aiming to secure a specialist role. It takes place after medical school and before specialist training.
- Many employers welcome applicants with previous experience as a Senior House Officer, specialising in other areas.
- Applicants from ST 1, 2, 3 and CT 1, 2, 3 in acute care clinical specialties will also be considered.
- A Certificate of Completion of Training will be required for consultancy roles.
- Sound understanding of general medicine and surgery.
- Excellent communication skills.
- Good organisational and planning skills.
- Ability to work under pressure.
- Confidence using existing technologies and readiness to learn about emerging equipment.
- Knowledge of health and safety requirements.
- Motivation and enthusiasm.
- Attention to detail.
- Manual dexterity and spatial awareness skills.
- Problem solving and decision making skills.
- Ability to work well within a team.
- Ability to impart medical information with patients in a sensitive and coherent manner.
- Good management skills.
- Dedication to patient care.
- Professional integrity.
- Commitment to ongoing learning and personal development.
- Ability to develop strong relationships with colleagues and patients.
Most breast radiologists work a normal 37.5 hour week, Monday to Friday.
Working as a breast radiologist can be both rewarding and emotionally demanding. Candidates must be prepared to deliver both good and bad news to patients and their families with care and consideration.
In addition to a degree in medicine, candidates were previously required to possess at least two years’ postgraduate medical experience in radiology and most conventional radiologists will have completed the ST programme. However, Modernising Medical Careers has recently been introduced which places greater importance on Foundation Training in this specialist field. Further information is available on the The Royal College of Radiologists website.
It is recommended that candidates develop relationships with local radiology departments and attend multidisciplinary meetings where possible to enhance their CV. Experience within a research role in an imaging topic is highly beneficial.
Applicants with experience outside the UK will still be required to undertake full training for a Certificate of Completion Training (CCT).
Radiology is an expanding profession and, with all the new technologies emerging, there is currently a shortage of specialist radiologists. According to the NHS, there are fewer radiologists for every person within the UK population than any other western country.
Breast radiologists can undertake further training and gain management experience to become a consultant radiologist. A senior consultant is the most senior position within this field.
Given the shortage of radiologists, promotional prospects are strong and it may be possible to secure overseas employment. Academic opportunities may also be available.
Also known as…
- Breast Cancer Clinician
- Specialist Radiologist
What’s it really like?
Dr Zoe Goldthorpe, 32, recently transferred her skills in a plastic surgeon role to her new position as a breast cancer clinician. Here, she explains why:
After completing a degree in medicine, I decided to undertake a research fellowship into breast cancer. This involved studying cancer cells, their susceptibility to chemotherapy and resistance to chemotherapy drugs. I went on to train in reconstructive and cosmetic breast surgery but became disillusioned with my work in this field and decided to use my knowledge to help identify and treat patients with breast cancer.
The majority of patients are women and they either come to the department with a lump or a pain or arrive through the screening service which provides a free mammogram to women between 50 and 70 every three years. This service aims to identify any cancerous lumps which can go undetected for another year. I am responsible for taking a history from the patient, examining them, assessing their breast X-rays and performing an ultrasound if appropriate. Any area that requires further assessment needs a biopsy and I proceed to this via various techniques.
My specific sessions are timetabled between screening and symptomatic women throughout the week. I also take a surgical review clinic for women who have previously been diagnosed with breast cancer and are undergoing follow up treatment. Unlike many breast radiologists, I also perform operations with a consultant surgeon and this can involve excising breast lumps, both benign and malignant.
I am fortunate enough to work alongside a great team: specialist nurses, surgeons, radiologists, oncologists, radiographers, health care assistants and administrative staff and I meet new people on a daily basis. I enjoy the practical challenges of diagnostic radiology and the occasional opportunities to perform surgery.
In talking patients through their journey, I am always happy to reassure them when they find lumps which are not cancerous. However, I am also responsible for delivering bad news to patients and this is never easy. It is an important part of my job to explain the diagnosis in an empathetic manner and make it as bearable as possible for the patient and their families. Despite any inevitable constraints with waiting lists and lack of time, it is important that they have time to understand and digest what I am telling them and how to proceed.
After nine months in this role, I am committed to remaining a breast specialist and hope to progress to a consultancy role after gaining management experience and undergoing further training. In the meantime, I intend to continue operating and use some of my previous reconstructive techniques when a reconstructive surgeon is appointed in my unit at the end of this year.
Axillary surgery is a specialist procedure for breast cancer patients undertaking a mastectomy. It involves creating an incision of the armpit to examine and, in some instances, remove the lymph nodes in this area. This examination can determine whether the disease has spread and identify the need for additional treatment. It is an essential part of breast cancer surgery so I am also focussed on improving my skills in this area.
Ultimately, being a breast radiologist is a rewarding and fascinating role for individuals with a genuine interest in a major disease and who enjoy patient contact. There is no on-call or after-hours duties so you have a good work/life balance which can be rare in medicine! Essentially, you can tailor your job to work for your lifestyle, your patients’ needs and you can, ultimately, make a major contribution to the lives of those around you.