Breast screening is the best method of detecting breast cancer in its earliest stages. Early detection offers the best chance of successful treatment and recovery. Screening mammograms use low dose x-rays of the breasts to detect cancers that are too small to be felt by you or your doctor.
Two-yearly mammography screening is most effective for women aged 50 to 74 years. Most women who have abnormal mammogram results don’t have cancer.
Breast cancer in Australia
Breast cancer is the most common cancer in Australian women. One in eight women will develop breast cancer by the age of 85 years. In Victoria, around 3,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer each year. In 2006 more than 660 Victorian women died from breast cancer, making it the second most common cause of cancer-related death in women after lung cancer.
Free breast screening
BreastScreen Australia is a government-funded, national breast cancer screening program that provides high-quality mammography screening, particularly for women aged between 50 and 74 years. Women in this age group who attend BreastScreen are routinely re-invited for screening every two years. Screening mammography finds most cancers present at the time of the mammogram although, like other medical tests, it is not 100 per cent accurate.
BreastScreen Victoria delivers breast screening services in Victoria and is an accredited part of BreastScreen Australia. Breast screening is provided free of charge, including initial screening mammograms and any further tests and assessment that may be needed to investigate an abnormal result.
If you have had breast cancer in the past, talk with your specialist about your screening options, as the screening program may not be suitable for you.
A screening mammogram is a low dose x-ray of your breasts, used to detect unsuspected cancer at an early stage before symptoms appear. The mammogram is carried out by a radiographer. It provides a picture of the inside of your breast. The picture is then examined by a radiologist, who is trained to detect any abnormalities.
Research has shown that regular mammography screening in women aged between 50 and 74 years can reduce deaths from breast cancer by up to one-third.
The BreastScreen program invites women aged between 50 and 74 years to have a free screening mammogram every two years. Women aged between 40 and 49 years or 75 and over may also be screened if they wish, but are not actively invited to the program and do not receive two-yearly reminder letters.
Evidence indicates that breast screening is most effective in women aged 50 to 74 years.
Screening a whole population of women in a particular age group who do not have symptoms is different from the use of mammography to investigate symptoms in an individual woman. When used to investigate an individual woman’s symptoms, the procedure is referred to as a diagnostic mammogram.
If you experience any symptoms or unusual changes in your breasts, see your doctor for diagnosis as soon as possible.
What to expect from a mammogram
While the mammogram is being taken, each breast will be compressed between two flat plates on the x-ray machine. Compressing the breast only lasts for a few seconds. Some women may experience discomfort. If you experience pain during the mammogram, let the radiographer know. You can also ask for the procedure to stop at any time.
It is recommended that you advise your radiographer if you have sensitive breasts. She will work with you to make sure that the mammogram is as comfortable as possible.
Further tests after breast-screening
Most women will only ever visit BreastScreen Victoria to have their regular screening mammograms. However, sometimes an abnormal result indicates that further investigation is needed. If you have an abnormal result, BreastScreen Victoria will ask you to visit your nearest assessment centre. A multidisciplinary team will assess the results, and then undertake further tests and a clinical examination (at no cost to you).
If you are contacted to attend an assessment centre following your screening mammogram, it is important that you do so at the earliest available appointment time.
Most women called back for further tests do not have breast cancer.
BreastScreen services in Victoria
There are 41 BreastScreen Victoria screening centres, and eight reading and assessment centres across Victoria. Two mobile screening vans also service 25 rural and urban communities on a regular basis to ensure all women can access screening, regardless of where they live. Female radiographers are always available. To make an appointment, call 13 20 50.
If you are outside the eligible age group, you can ask for a referral from your doctor to access mammography at public and private diagnostic imaging services.
Breast screening accreditation process ensures high standards
The effectiveness of BreastScreen Australia depends on maintaining high standards in all areas of service delivery. All breast screening services have to meet national accreditation standards, which have been developed by professionals involved with the program. The accreditation process means that women can be confident that their mammography screening service meets national standards, no matter where they attend.
Where to get help
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