Screening Mammograms ~ Health Guide

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Screening Mammograms

Written by Mystic on Monday, August 04, 2008

What is a screening mammogram?

A screening mammogram is simply a breast x-ray. It is used to look for breast cancer in women who have no breast symptoms, such as a lump or nipple discharge. It can detect most breast cancers, including those too small to be felt. If breast cancer is found at an early stage there is a greater chance of successful treatment.

Who should have a regular screening mammogram?

Screening is primarily recommended for all women aged 50 to 69 without breast symptoms. It is estimated that for individual women in this age group, having a screening mammogram every two years reduces their chance of dying from breast cancer by about 40%.

Research is less clear about the benefits of screening mammograms for women aged 40 to 49 and over 70. However women in these age groups are also eligible for screening and are very welcome to phone BreastScreen SA for an appointment if they wish to attend.

Women under 40 years of age are not eligible to attend for screening at BreastScreen SA as there is no evidence of a screening benefit in this age group. The breast tissues of younger women may be dense, making mammograms difficult to assess. This means that very small changes cannot be readily detected. Breast cancer occurs less frequently in women under 40 years of age. However is can occur at any age.

There is no evidence that routine screening mammograms for women under 40 reduces the number of deaths from breast cancer. Therefore, women in this age group are not eligible to attend for screening at BreastScreen SA.

What about women with a strong family history of breast cancer?

Women from the age of 40 with a strong family history of breast cancer are eligible for a screening mammogram every year at BreastScreen SA.

How does a screening mammogram feel?

During a mammogram each breast is firmly compressed for 10-15 seconds in an x-ray machine specially designed for this purpose. This compression is necessary to obtain the best possible picture of the breast tissue by spreading the breast tissue evenly and does not cause cancer. Most women find this compression causes only brief discomfort.

The radiation dose from a mammogram is very low, less than that from many x-rays people commonly have.

How effective is a screening mammogram?

While mammograms are currently the most effective tool for early detection, they do not cure breast cancers, or prevent breast cancer from developing in the future. Nor are they 100% accurate. Therefore a woman who becomes aware of a breast symptom, such as a lump or nipple discharge, or any other change in her breasts should contact her doctor promptly to arrange further investigation.

A screening mammogram is not suitable for investigations of breast lumps or other symptoms because more detailed tests are needed.

Why do women need more than one screening mammogram?

It is very important for women to know that one mammogram is not enough to last a lifetime. Women need to have a mammogram every two years because breast cancer can develop at any time. This will provide more opportunity to detect the early signs of a developing breast cancer.

How is a screening mammogram at BreastScreen SA arranged?

Free mammograms are available at six clinics in metropolitan Adelaide. Three mobile units visit country regions and some metropolitan areas every two years, the recommended screening interval.

Written information is published in 16 different languages, and free interpreter services are available on the phone and at the screening clinics. Wheelchair access is also available.

To have a free screening mammogram a doctor's referral is not required. For further information and appointments, telephone BreastScreen SA on 13 20 50, for the cost of a local call.

What is a diagnostic mammogram?

A diagnostic mammogram is performed on a woman of any age who becomes aware of a breast symptom, such as a lump, skin puckering, or discharge from the nipple. A referral from a medical practitioner is required for a diagnostic mammogram and there may be a cost involved.

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