Most Australian women live close to breast screening services but some face longer travel times

UNDER EMBARGO—until 12.01AM, Friday, 16 February, 2024

More than 9 in 10 Australian women live within a 20-minute drive of a permanent or visiting BreastScreen Australia screening service in 2021, according to a new report by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

The report, Access to BreastScreen Australia screening services, features an interactive map that highlights where the women who face much longer drives live, and will be used by the Australian and state and territory governments in the planning and delivery of breast cancer screening services including the optimal allocation of breast screening services. This report also allows for comparison of access and participation of priority populations (including First Nations women) to breast screening services.

‘Today’s report shows that 99.8% of all women and 96% of First Nations women, aged 50–74, live within a one-hour drive of a permanent BreastScreen Australia screening service or one that visits at least once every 2 years,’ said AIHW spokesperson Dr Martin Edvardsson.            

‘Most women have to travel for much less than one hour as 94% of all women and 89% of First Nations women, aged 50–74, live within a 20-minute drive of a permanent or visiting service,’ 

‘Early detection using screening mammography can reduce illness and death from breast cancer,’ added Dr Edvardsson.

Among women aged 50–74 participation was lowest for those who lived in Very remote areas (37%) and highest among those who lived in Outer regional and Inner regional areas (55% and 52%, respectively). In Very remote areas, 1 in 4 women aged 50–74 live more than a one-hour drive from a permanent service or one that visits at least every 2 years.

Screening is often the first step in the diagnosis and care for women with breast cancer. After screening, some women are recalled for further assessment. Barriers to accessing these assessments were not the focus of this report.

All Australian states and territories operate BreastScreen services with free screening mammograms to detect breast cancer early. The services operate about 161 permanent and 664 visiting sites that provide screening mammograms.

Women aged over 40 years can have a free screening mammogram every 2 years. Women aged 50–74 are actively encouraged to screen, and eligible women aged 40–49 and over 74 years can also have a free screening mammogram.

The National Preventive Health Strategy 2021–2030 set a breast screening participation rate target of at least 65% by 2025.

Participation has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, as services reduced capacity to implement COVID-19 safety measures which resulted in slightly lower participation than before the pandemic. In 2020–2021, 35% of First Nations women and 48% of non-Indigenous women, aged 50–74, participated in breast screening. 

To find your nearest breast screening service, visit the Department of Health and Aged Care's information page.

Media enquiries: Quinn Guy, AIHW: 0468 525 418

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