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06 Jan 2015

BreastScreen Australia Evaluation Report

The final report of the BreastScreen Australia Evaluation Program was released on Monday 7 September 2009. BreastScreen is a national program that provides free mammograms to women across Australia, with a particular focus on women aged 50 - 69 years.

The Evaluation was funded jointly by the federal and state and territory governments to consider the BreastScreen Australia Program and make recommendations on the future operations of the Program. The Evaluation Report includes 15 recommendations, which the Commonwealth, State and Territory Health Ministers will consider to determine which they will accept and implement. The report highlights the value of the BreastScreen Australia Program and the significant benefit to Australian women that the Program provides.


While BCNA supports many of the Report's recommendations, including the need to increase the participation rate of women aged 50-69 years, and the extension of the target age range to women aged 45-74 years (currently it is 50-69 years), we do have concerns about some of the recommendations.

Two key recommendations of the report are that women aged 40-44 years and women aged over 75 years no longer be eligible for the BreastScreen Program. BCNA does not support these recommendations. While mammograms may not be as effective for younger women due to their denser breast tissue, women aged 40-44 are currently able to access the BreastScreen Program. We see no reason to change this, particularly in the absence of any better screening options for these women. We believe it is beneficial for younger women who need mammograms to continue to have access to free screening through BreastScreen, despite statistics showing most new cases of breast cancer (about 75 per cent) occur in women over the age of 50.

Women over the age of 75 years should also be entitled to continue to access BreastScreen should they so choose. This will continue to be important as our population ages and our life expectancy rates increase.

We are also concerned at a recommendation that women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer cannot re-enter the BreastScreen Program until 5 years after their diagnosis. Women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer have regular mammograms as part of their follow-up care, however their exclusion from the BreastScreen Program means they are forced to pay for their mammograms. This often comes at a time when women have considerable other medical expenses related to their treatment.

Financial aspects of screening

BCNA acknowledges the concerns raised in the Report about the resourcing pressures on the BreastScreen Program. In particular, we note the Report's finding that demand for screening has increased over time and that the Program capacity is reaching its limit. However, the Report also finds that screening is generally a cost-effective means of breast cancer control. BCNA firmly believes that the early detection of breast cancer outweighs any financial burden in providing the BreastScreen Program, and that resourcing should therefore keep pace with demand for the Program.

BCNA's response

We have provided a response to the Australian Health Ministers and BreastScreen about the Report. In particular, we urged them:


  1. to not implement the recommendations which would make women aged 40-44 and women over 75 ineligible for the BreastScreen Program; and
  2. to ensure women who have had a breast cancer diagnosis are eligible for free mammograms as part of their follow-up care.

Next steps

The Report was discussed at the Australian Health Ministers' Advisory Council (AHMAC) meeting in November 2009.

The Health Ministers requested further time to consider the recommendations contained in the Report. No time frame has been provided regarding when the Report may be discussed by the Health Ministers again.

More information