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Screening for breast cancer

Early breast cancer detection has a strong influence on breast cancer survival. For example, when breast cancer is found in the early, localized stage, 98.5% of those people survive for at least five years after diagnosis. The primary early detection tool is a mammogram.

The medical community recognises the value of breast cancer screening and mammography, but there is no universal consensus on how often it should be done or when it should be started. Most health organisations agree, however, that women should work with their doctor to assess their personal risk of developing breast cancer and to determine what is best for them. Considerations can be given to the benefits of screening as well as the harms. While screening can detect cancer early when it is most treatable, it may also lead to false-positive results and unnecessary follow-up procedures, such as biopsies.

Women with certain risk factors may be advised to begin screening at an earlier age and may be advised to be screened more frequently, with additional testing such as imaging scans.

Early detection of breast cancer gives the best possible chance of survival. The earlier an abnormality is found, the greater the number of effective treatment options. In Australia, free routine mammographic screening is available in each state for women aged 50 to 74 through BreastScreen Australia. Women 40 to 49 years old can also have mammograms, however breast screening is less effective for women under 40 years old. The density (thickness) of breast tissue makes it more difficult to see a cancer in an x-ray and fewer women are diagnosed in this age group.

Last Review Date: August 1, 2018