SummaryRead the full fact sheet
- Early detection reduces deaths and the impact of treatment from breast cancer.
- BreastScreen Australia invites women aged 50-74 for free mammograms (breast screens) every two years.
- If you notice any breast symptoms or a change in the look and feel of your breast, see your doctor without delay.
Breast screening saves lives
Around one quarter of women who are diagnosed with breast cancer are younger than 50.
Breast screening (also known as mammogram) is the best way to detect breast cancer early.
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.
Early detection offers the best chance of successful treatment and recovery.
Who is eligible for breast screening?
In Australia, each state and territory operate a free breast screening service as part of the national breast cancer screening program.
To be eligible, you must be:
- 50 to 74 years – you will receive an invitation letter from age 50 in the mail to have a free screening mammogram every 2 years.
- 40 to 49 years – you will not be sent an invitation, but are still eligible for free breast screen every 2 years.
- Over 74 years – you will not be sent an invitation, but are still eligible for free breast screen every 2 years.
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.
You cannot be screened if you:
- Are pregnant
- Are breastfeeding
- Have recently been diagnosed with breast cancer.
What if I have breast implants?
Breast screening is generally safe if you have . However, there may be risks. A mammogram might also be less effective in detecting cancer because implants can affect how much breast tissue can be seen.
It is important to tell the breast screening service if you have implants, as different techniques may be used for your screening mammogram. The radiographer can then use special techniques to take images of breast tissue that might otherwise be hidden by your implants.
It often requires more x-ray films than those without implants and may involve additional exposure to radiation. You will need a slightly longer appointment (approximately 20 minutes).
Currently, there is no evidence that breast cancer occurs more often in women who have breast implants than in women without breast implants.
Risk of damage and problems with implants
Radiographers take special care to use minimal compression on breast implant during the breast screening procedure. It is highly unlikely that this compression could cause or worsen leaking of silicone or change the shape or texture of the breast, but it is possible.
In addition, if you have problems with your breast implants, consult your doctor before coming to BreastScreen Victoria. The service does not investigate or diagnose conditions associated with breast implants.
What if I notice any breast symptoms?
How do I organise my breast screen?
When you book your breast screen, you will be asked to fill out information about your medical history and whether you have a family history of breast or ovarian cancer. This information is used to work out your cancer risk so staff can recommend a screening schedule tailored to you.
BreastScreen screening services are run by female staff. There are 43 Screening Services and eight Reading and Assessment Services across Victoria and mobile screening vans regularly travel to rural and regional areas.
What happens at my breast screen?
At your appointment, you will have a screening mammogram. This is a low dose x-ray of your breasts, used to detect unsuspected cancer at an early stage before symptoms appear.
The x-ray provides an image of the inside of your breast. The image is then examined by a radiologist, who is trained to detect any abnormalities.
BreastScreen Victoria’s mammograms are carried out by a female radiographer.
What should I wear to my breast screen?
It’s a good idea to wear a skirt or pants and a top, rather than a dress or pant suit, as you will be asked to undress from the waist up.
Once you arrive at for your breast screen, you can request a gown that opens in the front.
What to expect during your breast screen
While the mammogram is being taken, each breast will be compressed between two flat plates on the x-ray machine so a clear image can be taken. You may experience some discomfort, but this usually lasts only for a few seconds.
If you are sensitive or experience pain during the mammogram, let the radiographer know. She will work with you to make sure that the mammogram is as comfortable as possible.
You can also ask for the procedure to stop at any time.
The mammogram will take approximately 10 minutes to perform, but you may be asked to wait a short time while the images are processed so the radiographer can check their quality.
Generally, there are no special instructions for aftercare following a mammogram so you can go back to your daily activity after the procedure.
What happens once I have been screened?
Your test results will be sent to you within 2-4 weeks (they will also be sent to your doctor if you provided their details).
What if my test result is abnormal?
Sometimes people will be asked to come back for further tests because further investigation is needed. If you had your screening at a BreastScreen screening service, it will be done at no cost to you.
This may seem scary, and can happen for first mammograms as there are no other breast images to compare with. The images may also be unclear.
Some things that can cause difficulty with reading the screening film include:
- Glandular (lumpy) breasts, which are common in young women under 30.
- Dense (muscular) breasts, common in pre-menopausal women.
- Previous breast surgery or radiation therapy.
- Breast implants.
- Movement of the breast during the procedure.
Remember, most people who are called back for further tests do not have breast cancer.
Please note, BreastScreen Victoria does not report on changes in your breast that are not signs of breast cancer (for example non-cancerous or benign changes such as cysts or changes that were present previously and are stable).
Further testing at BreastScreen Reading and Assessment Services
If you are contacted to attend a BreastScreen Reading and Assessment Service, it is important that you do so as soon as you can.
If you have any concerns, you can contact the service and ask to speak to a nurse counsellor.
Throughout this process the assessment team will support you. Further tests may include:
- breast examination
- further mammograms
- breast ultrasound
Getting results of further testing
Most people get their results on the day of their assessment. A copy of your tests is also sent to your doctor.
If you have a biopsy, it may take up to a week for your results to come back.
What if they find breast cancer?
If breast cancer is found during screening, it is usually detected at an early stage and can be successfully treated.
BreastScreen doctors and nurses will work with you to explain your findings and what will happen next. They will also contact your doctor who will plan for your ongoing treatment and care.