A mammogram is a low dose x-ray of a woman's breasts. Each breast is gently compressed between two plates for about 10-15 seconds. A 'screening' mammogram is done on women with no breast symptoms.
Mammograms can detect most (but not all) breast cancers long before you or your doctor can feel them. They reduce the risk of dying from breast cancer by up to one third and lessen the need for mastectomy (surgical removal of the breast).
Is a mammogram harmful?
With modern equipment, the amount of radiation is very low and does no harm.
Compression of the breast does not hurt for most women, although some may find it briefly uncomfortable or even painful.
What age groups should be screened?
Mammograms are usually more accurate as women get older, as the breast tissue becomes less dense. Also, the risk of breast cancer increases with age.
- Under 40 years. Regular screening mammograms are not recommended.
- 40-49 years. Free screening is available. but mammograms are not as effective as they are for post-menopausal women.
- 50-70 years. Women between 50-70 years should be screened every 2 years. Over 70% of breast cancers occur in women over 50 years of age.
- Over 70 years. Older women are at highest risk but may have other health problems that are of more concern. Discuss your situation with your doctor.
Where can I be screened?
BreastScreen Australia is a government-funded service which provides free mammograms every 2 years for all Australian women from the age of 40 years. Ring 13 20 50 to make an appointment.
Visit www.breastscreen.info.au or www.nbbc.info.au.