Mater doctors are warning that Australian women are turning a blind eye to breast cancer, with figures revealing that a staggering 50.4 per cent of eligible women are failing to take up free breast screening checks.

All women aged between 50 and 74 are reminded to book a mammogram every two years, but about 1.8m women failed to make or attend an appointment in 2021-22 according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

Doctors at Mater – Queensland’s largest not-for-profit hospital network and the state’s leading centre for breast cancer treatment and research – are desperately urging women to book their missed mammograms during Breast Cancer Awareness Month this October. 

Mater breast surgeon Dr Ben Lancashire said early detection was the best protection against a disease that claims the lives of more than 3,000 Australian women each year.

“Early detection dramatically improves the chances of a patient beating breast cancer,” Dr Lancashire said.

“It is vital that women in the most at-risk age group follow the advice to undergo screening every two years. A mammogram only takes 10 minutes and could save your life.”

Participation in breast screening is highest in Tasmania at 57.9% and lowest in the Northern Territory, where just 34% of eligible women underwent screening.

BreastScreen participation 2021-22 (age standardised rate)

  • Tasmania – 57.9%
  • South Australia – 53.0%
  • ACT – 52.7%
  • Queensland – 50.8%
  • Victoria – 50.6%
  • Western Australia – 49.4%
  • New South Wales – 46.8%
  • Northern Territory – 34.0%
  • Australia – 49.6%

Participation rates are recovering from the dip recorded during the COVID-19 pandemic, but the 2021-22 total of 1.82m participants is still below the total of 1.88m participants recorded in 2019-20.

Breast cancer survivor Katharine urged woman to take action as soon as they receive a mammogram notice.

The Gold Coast mum-of-three had only just turned 50 when she attended a free BreastScreen mammogram that saved her life.

“I had no sign of symptom of cancer at all and no history, but the mammogram detected what turned out to be a very aggressive tumour at the back of my breast,” Katharine said.

She chose to undergo a double mastectomy and breast reconstruction at Mater Private Hospital Brisbane that meant chemotherapy and radiotherapy were not required.

She’s now back running and scuba-diving and has an urgent message for women over 50.

“Don’t ever delay getting a mammogram,” she said.

“My breast screening appointment took less than 20 minutes and it saved my life.” 

According to BreastScreen Australia, women often cite the absence of a family history of breast cancer, the possible discomfort of a mammogram and forgetfulness as reasons for skipping mammograms.

Mater Breast Cancer Clinical Nurse Consultant Ash Mondolo said hesitant women needed to know the facts about breast cancer and mammograms.

“Most women with breast cancer have no family history of it, so screening is absolutely essential for all women aged 50-74,” Ash said.

“Also, mammograms should not hurt – just let the radiographer know if you experience any discomfort.

“We know women lead busy lives and it’s easy to forget or just ignore a screening request.

“But the fact is breast cancer doesn’t care if you’re busy – a 10-minute mammogram could save your life.”

Mater is a leading centre for both breast cancer treatment and research, with one in every four Queensland breast cancer patients treated at Mater facilities across South-East Queensland and in Townsville, Mackay and Rockhampton.

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