Breast cancer screening
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.
Being screened for breast cancer when you don’t have any symptoms can help find cancer early, when it is smaller and easier to treat.
Screening for breast cancer involves having a mammogram every two years from the age of 50 (or earlier if your GP advises it). A mammogram is a lowdose x-ray of the breast tissue. It can show changes that can’t be felt during a physical examination.
The exact cause of breast cancer is unknown, but some things can increase the chance of developing it. Breast cancer is most common in women aged 50 or older, but it can affect women of any age.
Other risk factors include having a mother or sister with breast or ovarian cancer, being overweight or gaining weight after menopause, drinking alcohol, and not being physically active.
A small number of women may have inherited a gene fault that increases their breast cancer risk. Using menopause hormone therapy (MHT) that contains both oestrogen and progesterone can also increase the risk of breast cancer. Having risk factors does not mean that you will develop breast cancer. Talk to your doctor if you are concerned.
Reducing your risk
Maintaining a healthy weight (particularly after menopause), being physically active and drinking less alcohol are the most important ways you can reduce your risk of breast cancer.
If you’re aged 50–74, take part in the breast cancer screening program. If you have a strong family history of breast cancer or a genetic condition that can cause breast cancer, ask your GP whether you need to start screening at an earlier age.
Finding breast cancer early
Breast cancer can usually be treated successfully if it is found early. Regularly checking your breasts and having screening mammograms can help find breast cancer early.
To check your breasts for changes, look at them in a mirror and feel them from time to time. Knowing what is normal for you will help you find any new or unusual changes.
What should I look out for?
- a new lump or lumpiness
- a change in the size or shape of the breast
- a change to the nipple, such as crusting, ulcers or sores, redness or inversion
- a clear or bloody discharge from the nipple that occurs without squeezing
- a change in the skin of the breast, such as redness or dimpling
- swelling or discomfort in the armpit.
Most breast changes aren’t caused by cancer, but it is best to see your GP for a check-up.