Breast screening detects cancers earlier in women with no cancer symptoms

The BreastScreen Australia Program is now detecting more small cancers in women with no symptoms of cancer, according to Breast cancer size and nodal status, a report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare and the iSource National Breast Cancer Centre.

Head of the Institute's Health Registers and Cancer Monitoring Unit, Mr John Harding, said that almost 10,400 new cases of invasive breast cancer in women in Australia in 1997 were analysed for the report. Of these, 3,072 (30%) were detected by the BreastScreen Australia mammography program.

The majority of the cancers detected by BreastScreen Australia (60%) were small-less than 15 millimetres in diameter. Screening also detected 223 cases of relatively large cancers of 30 millimetres or more in size (7% of cases).

Senior Epidemiologist at the iSource National Breast Cancer Centre, Dr Anne Kricker said early diagnosis improved the chances of effective treatment.

'It's encouraging to see that BreastScreen Australia is detecting so many cancers that are not easily found by women or their doctors before the cancers become larger and not as easy to treat effectively.'

BreastScreen Australia is a Commonwealth-State funded public health program that offers free population-based breast cancer screening to eligible women. Women in the target age group 50-69 years are actively recruited to participate in the Program. Women aged 40-49 years and over 70 years are also able to access screening.

Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer in women, with around 10,500 new cases and 2,500 deaths in Australia each year. Currently less than 60% of women in the 50-69 years target age group are screened at least every two years-the recommended screening interval.

The report found that 2,657 women aged 50-69 years were diagnosed with breast cancer in 1997 outside of the BreastScreen Australia program. Of this group, relatively fewer women had smaller cancers less than 15mm in size (38%) and more had larger cancers 30mm or more in size (21%) compared with women diagnosed through the BreastScreen program.

The report, Breast cancer size and nodal status is jointly funded by the iSource National Breast Cancer Centre and the Commonwealth Department of Health and Aged Care.

26 November 2001


Further information: John Harding, AIHW, tel. 02 6244 1140 (bh), 02 6248 6905 (ah). Anne Kricker, National Breast Cancer Centre, 0407 952 649

Media copies of the report: Publications Officer, AIHW, 02 6244 1032. Debra Lee, Communications Manager, National Breast Cancer Centre, tel. 02 9334 1713