Early detection of breast cancer

The chance of a woman up to age 85 developing breast cancer is one in eight.

Approximately 17,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer every year in Australia. When breast cancer is detected early, women have a much greater chance of being treated successfully and for most women the cancer will not come back after treatment.

What is a screening mammogram?

Mammograms are low dose x-rays of a woman’s breasts. Screening mammograms are performed on women without any symptoms of breast cancer.

Mammograms may find a breast cancer which is too small to feel.

Who should have a regular screening mammogram?

The biggest risk factors for developing breast cancer are being a woman and getting older. BreastScreen Australia targets women aged 50 to 74, as 75% of all breast cancers occur in women over the age of 50.

  • Screening mammograms are often less reliable for women under 40 years of age. The density of breast tissue in younger women often makes it difficult to detect cancers on mammograms.
  • All women aged 40 to 49 years who have no breast symptoms also have free access to the BreastScreen Australia program should they choose to a have a screening mammogram.
  • All women aged 50 to 74 years are encouraged to have a free mammogram every two years through BreastScreen Australia.
  • Women aged 75 and over who have no breast symptoms also have free access to the BreastScreen Australia program. They should discuss whether to have a mammogram with their doctor.

Where can I have a screening mammogram?

There are currently more than 500 free screening locations including mobile screening units covering rural and remote areas across Australia. To contact your local BreastScreen service, call 13 20 50 for the cost of a local call.

What if I have a family history of breast cancer?

Breast cancer is a common disease in Australian women. By chance some women will have a relative who has had breast cancer, however less than 5% of all breast cancers are associated with a family history. If you are concerned about your risk, speak to your doctor.

What are the breast cancer symptoms I need to look out for?

People of all ages should be familiar with the normal look and feel of their breasts. If you notice any of the following changes please see your doctor immediately:

  • a lump, lumpiness or thickening of the breast
  • changes in the skin of a breast, such as puckering, dimpling or a rash
  • persistent or unusual breast pain
  • a change in the shape or size of a breast
  • discharge from a nipple, a nipple rash or a change in its shape.

What else can I do to reduce my breast cancer risk?

  • Maintain a healthy body weight.
  • Be physically active on most (or preferably, all) days.
  • Eat for health – choose a varied diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables.
  • Limit your alcohol intake.

Remember, if you have any concerns or questions, please contact your doctor.

Keep Learning

Have you done a Risk Quiz yet?

Our quizzes help to determine your risk of disease and will remind you of  essential check-ups (if you should need one).

At the end of the quiz you will be presented with a recommendation based on your answers.

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Doctors.com.au will not be held responsible or liable for any errors or omissions that may be found in any of the information on this fact sheet, and you are encouraged to consult other sources to confirm the information, and in the event that medical treatment is required, to take professional expert advice from a legally qualified and appropriately experienced medical practitioner.


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