Breast screening, also called mammography or a mammogram, is a low dose X-ray examination of your breasts. It can sometimes detect breast cancer before there are any signs or symptoms (such as a lump you can feel).
Screening mammograms through Australia’s national breast screening program, BreastScreen Australia, aim to find breast cancer early, when treatment is likely to be most successful.
Cancer Australia notes in its position statement that detection of breast cancer while it is still small and confined to the breast provides the best chance of effective treatment. Benefits of early detection include increased survival, increased treatment options and improved quality of life.
Women aged 40 and over who do not have any breast symptoms are entitled to a free mammogram every two years through BreastScreen. Women with symptoms should see their GP.
Women aged 50-74 receive an invitation from BreastScreen every two years to attend for a mammogram. This age group is targeted because more than 75% of breast cancers occur in women aged 50-74.
For those at increased risk of developing breast cancer, yearly mammograms may be offered and for those at very high-risk, breast MRI may be available outside the BreastScreen program. People who are at very high risk of breast cancer are encouraged to discuss a more tailored screening program with their GP that may involve more regular imaging at a private imaging clinic.
Mammographic screening is less effective in the detection of breast cancer for women under 40 years of age. If you are under 40 and are concerned you may be at increased risk for breast cancer, you should discuss this with your GP.
You can also use iPrevent, an evidence-based tool from the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, which can help you to assess your breast cancer risk and get personalised advice about the type and frequency of screening that might be appropriate for you. If you have a family history of breast cancer, you read more about Breast cancer in the family.
Even if you are having regular screening mammograms, you should still see your doctor if you notice and change in your breasts. Breast cancers can develop between screening mammograms – these are called "interval" cancers.
There are more than 750 BreastScreen locations around Australia, including permanent screening clinics, assessment clinics and mobile units. You can attend any screening clinic that is convenient for you. Make an appointment by calling 13 20 50.
For more information, including what to expect when you attend your appointment, click on the website of your state or territory