Let’s Talk about Breast Cancer Awareness

BreastScreen Australia

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BreastScreen Australia offers a national mammographic breast cancer screening program for Australian women. Free mammograms are available every two years to all Australian women aged 40 and over who do not have any symptoms of breast disease.

Around 75% of all breast cancers occur in women over the age of 50. BreastScreen targets its program to women aged 50-69, because research shows that screening is most effective in detecting early breast cancer in women in this age group. Women in the target age group (50-69) receive a letter from BreastScreen every two years reminding them that they are due for a screening mammogram. Women aged 40-49 and 70 and over are eligible to attend the program, but do not receive reminder letters as they sit outside the target age group.

Following treatment for breast cancer, women are advised to have an annual mammogram as part of their follow-up care. In some states and territories, women who have had a diagnosis of breast cancer can return to the BreastScreen program five years after their diagnosis. In other states and territories, women are precluded from ever returning to BreastScreen for follow-up mammograms. Women who show symptoms of breast disease are also precluded or discouraged from attending BreastScreen services.

Many women have raised with us the inequity in not being able to access free mammograms through BreastScreen after their breast cancer diagnosis, particularly as many were receiving free mammograms through BreastScreen prior to their diagnosis. While there is a Medicare rebate for mammograms, many private imaging clinics charge more than the Medicare Schedule Fee, resulting in women who use these services having to pay the balance of the fee charged. A 2009 survey of 160 BCNA members found that 63% of women having follow-up mammograms incurred an out-of-pocket cost for them, with the majority paying between $51 and $150 per mammogram. Women who did not incur an out of pocket cost told us they had their mammograms at a public hospital. Some women may also be bulk-billed.

In October 2005, the Australian Health Ministers Advisory Council (AHMAC), which comprises the federal Health Minister and the Health Ministers from every state and territory, commissioned an expert committee to undertake a major evaluation of BreastScreen Australia. The committee’s report, the BreastScreen Australia Evaluation Report, was released by the Australian Health Ministers in September 2009. The report made 19 recommendations for the program, including that women who have had a diagnosis of breast cancer should be able to return to the BreastScreen program five years after their diagnosis. To date, the Health Ministers have not provided a response to the report or indicated whether any of the recommendations may be accepted and implemented.

Women with no symptoms of breast disease

  • BCNA supports the provision of a free mammographic screening program for all Australian women aged 40 and over, and encourages all eligible women to participate.
  • All women in the BreastScreen target age range should receive reminder letters when their bi-annual screening mammograms are due.
  • Women outside the BreastScreen target age range should be given the option to receive reminder letters when their bi-annual screening mammograms are due.
  • Measures should be continued to improve the breast screening participation rate amongst women in the target age group (50-69).
  • Measures should be continued to improve the breast screening participation rate amongst Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and women from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.

Women with a previous diagnosis of breast cancer and women at high risk of developing breast cancer due to family history

  • BCNA supports the sub-recommendation in recommendation 11 of the BreastScreen Australia Evaluation Report that would allow women who have had a diagnosis of breast cancer the option to return to BreastScreen for annual screening mammograms from five years after their diagnosis.
  • BCNA supports recommendation 19 of the BreastScreen Australia Evaluation Report which calls for pilot or demonstration studies to be undertaken to explore whether BreastScreen Australia should provide individualised surveillance post-treatment of women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer for less than five years, and individualised surveillance of women at a higher risk of developing breast cancer due to strong family history.BreastScreen Australia Evaluation Report.
  • BCNA calls on the Australian Health Ministers to provide a response to the BreastScreen Australia Evaluation Report and to accept recommendations as outlined in BCNA’s Response to BreastScreen Australia Evaluation Report, 9 November 2009.

More information

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