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Woman having a mammogram

Woman having a mammogram
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3 min read

Mammography, also commonly referred to as a mammogram, is a type of X-ray of the breasts used to screen for breast cancer in women and to help diagnose breast cancer in women who have a lump in their breast.

If you are a woman aged between 50 and 74 years, it is recommended that you have a regular mammogram to screen for breast cancer.

Mammograms increase the chance of early detection and successful treatment of breast cancer.

What is a mammogram?

A mammogram is a method that uses low doses of X-rays to create an image of the breast. It is used as a breast cancer screening test.

This means it is used to examine women who don’t have any reason to suspect they might have breast cancer.

It is also used as part of a diagnostic test for women who have a breast lump.

When are screening mammograms recommended?

Cancer Council Australia recommends mammograms every 2 years for all women aged between 50 and 74 - the age range during which most breast cancers occur and when the benefits of screening are clear-cut.

If you are 40 years of age or more and are concerned about your risk of breast cancer, for example due to your family history, your doctor may recommend a mammogram.

The benefits of screening at the younger age are unclear as the denser breast tissue affects the image, making it more difficult to detect cancer.

When are diagnostic mammograms recommended?

You might be asked to have a diagnostic mammogram if you have a lump in your breast. If you have a breast lump and are having a mammogram, you may also have an ultrasound. You may also be asked to have a biopsy.

Risks of screening mammograms

For most women aged over 50 the benefits of regular mammograms outweigh any risks.

The risks of a mammogram are:

  • exposure to a low dose of radiation from X-rays
  • a result suggesting a possible cancer that is found to be wrong by follow-up testing (known as a false positive).

These false positive mammograms can be caused by scar tissue, cysts or dense breast tissue.

Risks of diagnostic mammograms

The main risk is exposure to a low dose of radiation from X-rays. This is outweighed by the benefit of getting information about a breast lump.

What does a mammogram cost?

Two-yearly mammograms are free through BreastScreen Australia for women aged 40 and over. You will probably be charged for mammograms that are done to help diagnose cancer – Medicare offers a rebate on those tests.

You will probably be charged for screening mammograms that are done outside the BreastScreen Australia program. Medicare might or might not offer a rebate on those tests.

State and territory directories

Call BreastScreen Australia on 13 20 50 for more information or to make an appointment, or visit the BreastScreen website in your state or territory.

Last reviewed: February 2016

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