Breast cancer screening

You can have breast cancer for years before you or your doctor notice that something is wrong – by which time it could be well-developed. A breast screen (or mammogram) can find cancer early, when it’s small and easier to treat. A breast screen won’t stop you from getting breast cancer, but it can give you a better chance of successful treatment.

Who should attend breast cancer screening?

Women aged between 50 and 74 are encouraged to have a mammogram every two years to screen for breast cancer. If you want to stop screening mammograms after the age of 75, discuss it with your doctor.

Why is breast cancer screening important?

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women – 1 in 8 women in NSW will develop breast cancer in their lifetime.

The biggest risk factors for breast cancer are being a woman, and being over 50.

Where can I have a mammogram?

Breastscreen NSWThe screening program for breast cancer in NSW is run by BreastScreen NSW, part of BreastScreen Australia. It’s jointly funded by the Commonwealth and NSW governments.

BreastScreen NSW promotes free two-yearly breast screening to women aged from 50 to 74, the group that benefits most from screening. Women from 40 to 49, and women 75 and over can also have a free breast screen if they want it. If you are aged between 40–44 the harms of screening may outweigh the benefits – speak to your doctor about your individual circumstances. It’s not available to women under 40, the group with the lowest risk.

BreastScreen NSW runs screening and assessment services at more than 190 fixed and mobile locations.

To make an appointment, call 13 20 50.

What happens during the screening?

Screening involves taking an x-ray (mammogram) of each breast. Mammograms are performed by health professionals called radiographers.

The mammogram will take place in a private room. You will be asked to remove your clothing from the waist up. The radiographer will place one breast at a time between two plates on the machine. The screening machine will press on the breasts for a few seconds. Some women find the process uncomfortable. The whole process takes 20–30 minutes.

All mammograms are examined by two specially trained doctors. If a mammogram shows something suspicious, BreastScreen NSW makes sure you have follow-up tests and care.

What else should I know?

Even breast screening can miss cancers – so get to know your breasts and find out what is normal for you. That way you’ll be able to spot changes. Whatever your age have your breasts examined by your doctor or women’s health nurse every year.

If you notice any problems listed below, see your doctor.

  • A lump, lumpiness or thickening. For younger women – if this is not related to your normal monthly cycle and remains after your period. For women of all ages – if this is a new change in one breast only.
  • Changes to the nipple. Such as a change in shape, crusting, a sore or an ulcer, redness or turning in of the nipple when it used to stick out.
  • Discharge from the nipple. If this is from one nipple and is bloodstained, or occurs without squeezing.
  • Changes in the skin of the breast. Such as dimpling or indentation of the skin, unusual redness or other colour change.
  • Persistent, unusual pain. If this is not related to your normal monthly menstrual cycle, remains after your period and occurs in one breast only.
  • A change in the shape or size of a breast. This might be either an increase or decrease in size.

For more information visit BreastScreen NSW.

Or call Cancer Council 13 11 20 and speak to a specialist cancer professional.