BreastScreen Australia is the national breast cancer screening program. It aims to reduce illness and death from breast cancer through an organised approach to the early detection of breast cancer, using screening mammography to detect unsuspected breast cancer in women. Early detection provides an opportunity for early treatment, which can reduce illness and death. Women aged 40 and over are eligible for free mammograms every 2 years.

This report is the latest in the annual BreastScreen Australia monitoring report series. The latest data available for women aged 50–74 are presented.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer affecting Australian women

Breast cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed in Australian women. In 2016, 10,756 new cases of invasive breast cancer were diagnosed in women aged 50–74, equivalent to 330 new cases per 100,000 women.

Incidence increased from around 200 new cases per 100,000 women aged 50–74 in the years before BreastScreen Australia began in 1991, to 300 cases per 100,000 in 2000. For the years 2000 to 2016, incidence remained at around 300 new cases per 100,000 women.

Breast cancer is the second most common cause of cancer‑related death in Australian women, behind lung cancer. In 2018, 1,423 women aged 50–74 died from breast cancer, which is equivalent to 42 deaths per 100,000 women.

Breast cancer mortality has decreased since BreastScreen Australia began—from 74 deaths per 100,000 women aged 50–74 in 1991 to less than 50 deaths per 100,000 since 2010.

More than half of targeted women participate in BreastScreen Australia

More than 1.8 million women aged 50–74 had a screening mammogram through BreastScreen Australia in 2017–2018. This was 55% of women in the target age group. Participation has stayed between 54% and 55% since 2010–2011.

A small proportion of women are recalled for further investigation

In 2018, 11% of women who screened for the first time, and 4% of women attending a subsequent screen, had a screening mammogram result indicating they should be recalled for further investigation. These rates are similar to those in 2017.

More than half the cancers detected by BreastScreen Australia are small

Small breast cancers (≤15 mm in diameter) tend to be associated with more treatment options, lower morbidity and improved survival. In 2018, 46% of breast cancers detected in women attending their first screen, and 61% of breast cancers detected in women attending subsequent screens, were small. In comparison, it has been shown that just 28% of breast cancers detected outside BreastScreen Australia are small (AIHW 2018).

Around two in five Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women participated

Participation in BreastScreen Australia for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women aged 50–74 was 38% in 2017–2018, compared with 54% for non-Indigenous women. Indigenous women aged 50–74 had a lower incidence rate of breast cancer than non-Indigenous women (251 compared with 303 new cases per 100,000) but a higher mortality rate (47 compared with 42 deaths per 100,000). In 2011–2015, Indigenous women aged 50–74 who were diagnosed with breast cancer had a 78% chance of surviving for 5 years, up from 73% in 2001–2005.