BreastScreen ACT is part of a national population breast screening program that is aimed at reducing deaths from breast cancer through early detection.
The Program provides free screening and follow up services to ACT resident women from the age of 40 years.
Phone BreastScreen ACT on 13 2050.
About breast screening
The majority of breast cancers occur in women after age 50. Extensive research has demonstrated that the most benefit, in terms of reducing deaths from breast cancer, can be achieved by regular 2 yearly screening of women in the over 50 age group. There is less evidence to support the population benefits of screening women under the age of 50.
In the Program, breast screening is done through the use of digital mammography (low-dose breast x-rays).
The Program also provides an assessment clinic where women who have an abnormality detected on their screening mammogram can come for further investigations.
The BreastScreen Program is jointly funded by the Federal, State and Territory governments, so all services are provided at no direct cost to clients.
Why choose BreastScreen?
Research has shown that regular screening of women over the age of 50 has been effective in reducing deaths from breast cancer through early detection. In 2008, more than half of the invasive breast cancers detected through the BreastScreen Program were small diameter cancers (Australian Institute of Health & Welfare Report August 2010). Detecting cancers when they are small can improve the chances of successful treatment and recovery and can result in greater treatment options for women.
All BreastScreen services are regularly reviewed through a national independent accreditation process to ensure that a high quality service is provided. The performance of each service is measured by assessing how closely it meets a set of nationally agreed standards. Over 170 standards cover all the different parts of the BreastScreen Program, including cancer detection rates, participation rates, equitable access and timeliness.
Some of the quality features of the BreastScreen ACT Program are that:
- All mammograms are taken by specially trained female radiographers
- All mammograms are read independently by 2 radiologists who are experienced in reading and interpreting breast x-rays
Assessment clinics for women who have been recalled for further tests are run by an experienced multi-disciplinary team including radiographers, radiologists, breast surgeons, pathologists and nurse counsellors.
Nurse Counsellors are available at the clinic to provide support and information to women at any stage of the screening and assessment process.
Health promotion officers are available to give information sessions on breast cancer awareness and breast screening to community groups and organisations.
Although screening mammography is currently the best way of finding breast cancer early, it is not a perfect tool. Some cancers are not visible on x-ray, even though they may be felt as a lump or thickening in the breast. This means that:
For some women, there is a chance that an existing breast cancer may not be detected at the time of screening. For this reason, women are advised that if they notice a breast change they should see their doctor for a full investigation of the change, even if their last mammogram has been reported as normal.
Some women are recalled for further tests which can create anxiety. Most women who are recalled for investigation of a possible abnormality do not have breast cancer.
The Program has been established to screen large numbers of women. This means there is often a waiting period for a screening appointment and also to receive the results. The Program is therefore not appropriate for women who are experiencing a new change in their breast that requires immediate investigation. Women with a new symptom are advised to consult their general practitioner (GP) rather than make an appointment with BreastScreen.
Who can use the service?
Women under 40 years
Women under 40 years are not eligible for routine screening through BreastScreen ACT. Currently, there is little evidence of the benefits of population based screening for women of this age group.
Why aren't women under 40 years screened?
The tissue of young women's breasts tends to be more dense than that of older women due to the influence of hormones. On a screening mammogram, dense breast tissue shows up as a white area. Breast cancers also usually appear white and are therefore more difficult to find on young women's screening mammograms.
The risk of breast cancer in young women is low compared to that of older women. More than 70% of breast cancer occurs in women over 50.
Younger women who notice any unusual breast lumps, pain or nipple discharge should see their GP immediately. Those who are concerned about their individual risk of developing breast cancer should also seek advice from their GP.
Women aged between 40-49 years
Current evidence indicates that the benefits of population breast cancer screening for women aged 40-49 years are not strong enough to encourage all women in this age group to have regular breast cancer screening.
Women in this age group are eligible to have a screening mammogram with BreastScreen, but the Program only sends routine reminder letters to women in the target age group of 50-74 years.
Women who notice any unusual breast lumps, pain or nipple discharge should see their doctor immediately. Those who are concerned about their individual risk of developing breast cancer should also seek advice from their doctor.
Women aged between 50-74 years
Screening mammography is recommended for women aged 50-74 years.
Women aged 50-74 years are actively encouraged to attend every two years for a screening mammogram as screening has been shown to be of significant benefit in terms of reducing deaths from breast cancer in this group. As part of their service, BreastScreen ACT sends reminder letters to women in this age group when their mammogram is due. Women are asked to contact the Program if they change address or do not, for some reason, receive their reminder letter when it is due.
Women 75 years and older
Women 75 years and older are eligible for free screening but are not sent reminder letters by the Program. BreastScreen recommends that women in this age group who wish to continue screening with the Program are welcome to ring for an appointment when their next mammogram is due.
Women who have noticed a change in their breast
Screening mammography is not appropriate for women who have noticed a change in their breast. Women who have a breast symptom are best managed through their General Practitioner, who can arrange for a timely assessment of that change, which may include a breast examination and other tests such as diagnostic mammogram and/or ultrasound.
Some changes that may indicate the presence of a breast cancer are:
- a lump
- nipple discharge
- a change in the size or shape of the breast or nipple
- an unusual persistent pain
- a change in the skin such as dimpling, puckering or redness.
What is the difference between a screening and diagnostic mammogram?
BreastScreen provides free screening mammograms for women who do not have symptoms relating to their breast.
Diagnostic mammograms are similar x-rays but are used for diagnosing breast changes or abnormalities that may have been detected through breast self examination and/or clinical examination. A doctor's referral is required for a diagnostic mammogram, which is performed at a specialised radiology clinic.
Diagnostic mammograms are not offered within the BreastScreen Australia program, except as part of further investigation following an abnormality that has been detected on the screening mammogram.
What happens at the screening clinic?
A mammogram only takes a few minutes and the entire visit takes about half an hour. You will be asked to complete a consent form prior to your mammogram. This informs you that, like other screening tests, mammography cannot detect all cancers, but offers you the best chance to detect cancers early when treatment can be most effective.
You will be asked to remove your bra and keep your blouse on. The radiographer will explain how the mammogram is taken once in the room. She will adjust the height of the machine to match your height.
Each breast is compressed to get a clear picture of the breast tissue. Two x-rays are taken of each breast: one from the side and one from the top. Each x-ray is checked by the radiographer to make sure the picture is of a high quality and technically sound. Occasionally, another film is required.
Can I bring a friend?
You are welcome to book in with a friend or bring a friend or family member with you, but you cannot make an appointment on behalf of a friend without prior written consent or verbal consent by phone. This is due to the type of questions asked and concerns about privacy.
Only female friends or family members will be allowed into the inner waiting room and only if there is room. People who come with you are welcome to wait in the outer waiting room. In other clinics there may be room in the general waiting room. Some women make bookings with their social group. You can find out what is possible at each location by phoning the booking line below.
Can I bring children to my appointment?
Children under 18 years of age are not permitted into the x-ray room while you are having a mammogram. This is to ensure children are not exposed to radiation unnecessarily.
If it is necessary for you to bring children to your appointment, please inform the BreastScreen ACT staff when you are making your appointment.
BreastScreen ACT is not able to provide child minding services so it is recommended an adult attend the appointment with you to mind your children while you are having your mammogram.
What happens after my screening mammogram?
Following screening, your mammogram will be read independently by 2 radiologists (specialist doctors). Your results are not available immediately, but usually within 28 working days they will be sent to you by post or you will be telephoned by a nurse counsellor to attend for further assessment. There may be up to a 6 week wait if there is difficulty in obtaining previous x-rays for comparison purposes or in contacting you. Hence all women are asked that they be available for 6 weeks after the screening mammogram.
Women whose x-rays show changes in their breasts are called back to an assessment clinic for more tests. The clinic is staffed by a team of specialists who perform a full investigation of the abnormality. This clinic is provided free of charge to women.
For most women attending this clinic, cancer will not be detected. Less than one per cent of women screened are found to have breast cancer. Women diagnosed with breast cancer are referred back to their GP for referral to a specialist for treatment.
BreastScreen ACT DVDs
If you have received a disc from BreastScreen ACT, please follow the instructions in the cheat sheet below on 'how to' access images.
BreastScreen ACT provides screening clinics in the ACT at 1 Moore Street in the city and the Phillip Health Centre in Woden. Please ring 13 20 50 to make an appointment.
Phillip Health Centre
Corinna Street (Cnr Keltie)
13 20 50
City Health Centre
Ground Floor, ACT Health Building
1 Moore Street (Cnr Alinga)
13 20 50
Belconnen Health Centre
56 Lathlain Street
13 20 50
All sites are wheelchair accessible but due to the nature of the mammography equipment, clients in non-motorised wheelchairs cannot be screened in their chair unless the non-motorised chair has removable arms. Clients with a disability may need to bring a carer or friend to assist with the screening.
For general information, please contact us on 13 2050 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Nurse Counsellors, located at the Civic clinic, are available to speak to women in more detail about breast screening and breast cancer issues. They can be contacted by ringing BreastScreen ACT on 13 2050.
If you wish to arrange information sessions about breast cancer awareness for your group or organisation, please contact our Health Promotion Officer on (02) 6205 1614.