Breast imaging

Most women who have had treatment for breast cancer will be referred by their doctor for regular breast imaging as part of their follow-up care.

Breast imaging can be carried out using various techniques, but those recommended are mammograms, ultrasound and, for a small group of women, MRI scans.

Mammograms

A mammogram is an X-ray of the breast and is the most common form of breast imaging. There are two types of mammogram -- screening and diagnostic.

Screening mammograms

Screening mammograms are used for women who do not have any symptoms of breast cancer and who have not had breast cancer in the past.

If you are aged 40 or over, have never been diagnosed with breast cancer and currently have no symptoms of breast cancer, you can be screened free of charge at a BreastScreen Australia clinic.

Diagnostic Mammograms

Diagnostic mammograms are recommended for women who have a previous history of breast cancer or who are at high risk of developing breast cancer. Several X-rays are taken in order to obtain views of the breast/s from different angles. You will need a referral from a doctor for a diagnostic mammogram.

In most states and territories, you cannot have your follow-up diagnostic mammograms at a BreastScreen clinic, and so your doctor will refer you to a private or public radiology practice. While there is a Medicare rebate available, many women incur an out-of-pocket cost for their follow-up mammograms. This is an issue about which BCNA is concerned - you might like to read our Cost of Follow Up Mammograms Project 2009 report for more information.

BreastScreen clinics in some states and territories do allow women to return for their follow-up mammograms, however they all have different rules and eligibility criteria. If you are unsure of the rules in your state/territory, you may like to phone BreastScreen on 13 20 50 to ask if you are eligible. 

Ultrasound

Some women may also be referred by their doctor for an ultrasound test as part of their follow-up care.

MRI

Some women, particularly those under the age of 50 and who are at high risk of developing breast cancer due to a strong family history or a genetic mutation, are encouraged to undergo annual breast Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) as part of their regular screening routine. MRI is sometimes a more effective screening tool for younger women, especially those with dense breasts.

MRI scans are very expensive -- up to $700 per scan. There is a Medicare rebate for women at high risk of developing breast cancer. For more information about the rebate, read our Medicare Rebate For Breast MRI For High Risk Women page.

Other forms of breast screening

Sometimes you might hear about other types of breast screening, including thermal imaging (also known as thermography). Thermal imaging has been deregistered for use in Australia by the Therapeutic Goods Administration. It is not recommended by Cancer Australia, BreastScreen Australia, the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Radiologists, or the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC). There is no Medicare rebate for breast thermal imaging.

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BreastScreen Australia

BreastScreen Australia provides free screening mammograms every two years to Australian women over 40 who do not have any symptoms or signs of breast disease.

The program is available in all states and territories. While it is specifically targeted to women in the 50-69 year age bracket, women aged 40-49 and 70+ can also attend for free mammograms.

To make an appointment at your local BreastScreen clinic, phone 13 20 50. You do not need a referral from your doctor to attend BreastScreen.

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