Free breast cancer screening is achieving good participation rates in both city and country women, according to a report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).
Over 1.6 million women across Australia took part in free breast cancer screening as part of BreastScreen Australia in 2007-2008, with just under 1.3 million in the target age range of 50-69 years.
The AIHW's BreastScreen Australia monitoring report 2006-2007 and 2007-2008 also shows that while the number of participating women in the target age group rose by 11,000 compared to the previous reporting period, the target group participation rate fell slightly, from 56% to 55%. Participation of target age Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women remained lower at 36%.
'Participation in all regions from major cities to very remote locations was within 5 percentage points of the national rate', said Dr Alison Budd of the Institute's Cancer and Screening Unit.
Since BreastScreen Australia began in 1991, new cases of breast cancer for women aged 50-69 years increased from 230 per 100,000 in 1991 to a peak of 305 in 2001, before falling to 288 cases per 100,000 in 2006.
Conversely, deaths from breast cancer decreased steadily for women aged 50-69 years, from 68 per 100,000 women in 1991 to 47 per 100,000 in 2007.
'Women aged 50-69 years are targeted because they have a relatively high incidence of breast cancer, and screening mammography is known to be effective in reducing deaths in this age group,' Dr Budd said.
'This is because breast tissue of women over 50 tends to become less dense, which allows screening mammography to be more effective at correctly identifying breast cancers in this age group compared with younger women.'
BreastScreen Australia's aim is to reduce illness and deaths from breast cancer through organised screening to detect cases of unsuspected breast cancer, which enables intervention at an early stage.
'Nearly two-thirds of all invasive breast cancers detected by BreastScreen Australia are small. This is an important result, since detection of breast cancers when they are small leads to more options for treatment and improved survival,' Dr Budd said.
Excluding non-melanoma skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer affecting Australian women, and the second most common cause of cancer death after lung cancer.
BreastScreen Australia is a joint program of the Australian Government and state and territory governments.