BreastScreen Australia is a joint program of the Australian and state and territory governments that aims to reduce morbidity and mortality from breast cancer. This is achieved through organised breast cancer screening that aims to detect cases of unsuspected breast cancer in asymptomatic women, enabling intervention at an early stage. The target age group is women aged 50-69 years.

Participation and rescreening

In 2005-2006, 1,622,481 women participated in BreastScreen Australia, of whom 1,241,796 (76.5%) were aged 50-69 years.

Participation of women aged 50-69 years in BreastScreen Australia increased from 55.7% in 2003-2004 to 56.9% in 2005-2006.

In 2005-2006, participation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women aged 50-69 years remained lower than the national rate, at 38.1% of the eligible population.

The proportion of women aged 50-69 years rescreened within 27 months ranged from 62.7% after the first screen to 80.9% after third and subsequent screens.

Invasive cancer detection

Detection of invasive breast cancers within BreastScreen Australia increased between 1996 and 2006, in line with the Program's aim to maximise the number of cancers detected, particularly the number of small cancers.

The proportion of invasive breast cancers detected that were small decreased marginally from 64.8% in 1996 to 62.4% in 2006. The proportion of small cancers detected was higher in subsequent screening rounds (63.6%) compared with the first screening round (55.2%), which shows that a higher proportion of women attending the Program for the first time have breast cancers larger than 15 mm compared with those who have been screened previously.

Recall to assessment

Between 1996 and 2006, the national recall to assessment rate for the first screening round increased from 5.8% to 10.0% of women screened, while this increased by a smaller margin for subsequent screening rounds from 3.2% to 4.0%.

Incidence and mortality

Incidence and mortality rates for breast cancer for all Australian women have changed between 1991, when BreastScreen Australia commenced, and the most recent year for which these data are available. Incidence for women aged 50-69 years increased from 229.9 new cases per 100,000 women in 1991 to 279.1 in 2005, with a peak of 304.8 in 2001. Conversely, mortality from breast cancer for women aged 50-69 years has decreased steadily from 66.5 deaths per 100,000 women in 1991 to 47.5 per 100,000 women in 2006.