Benefits And Limitations Of Breast Screening

Making an informed choice about having a breast screen is very important. Before making your appointment, there are some benefits and limitations that you need to be aware of. These will be different for every woman.

Benefits of breast screening

  • Finding breast cancer at an early stage
    In 2008, local research found that South Australian women aged 50 to 69, who had a breast screen every two years, reduced their chance of dying from breast cancer by up to 41%.
    In 2017 this research was further confirmed by the Australian Institute for Health and Wellbeing.

  • Less invasive treatment
    For every 1000 women who have a breast screen, only six will be found to have breast cancer. Breast cancers that are detected through BreastScreen SA are generally smaller, making them simpler and easier to treat. A woman’s overall health outcome is also improved.

  • Reassurance
    Most women who have a breast screen will get a result of ‘no evidence of breast cancer’ and will feel reassured they are being proactive in maintaining their breast health.

Limitations of breast screening

While screening mammograms are currently the most effective way to screen for breast cancer, there are limitations you need to be aware of.

  • Breast cancer is present but not found
    A screening mammogram will not detect all breast cancers. Some cancers cannot be seen on a screening mammogram, or can develop during the time between mammograms. There is a small chance that a cancer could be missed in a screening mammogram. This may lead to a diagnosis of breast cancer at a later stage.

    Less than 1 in 1000 women aged 50 to 74 will be found to have breast cancer in the 12 months following their breast screen. Other factors contributing to the effectiveness of screening mammograms can include a woman’s age and her individual breast density.

  • Breast cancer is found and treated unnecessarily (overdiagnosis)
    Breast screening may also find breast cancers that may potentially not become life-threatening. This means a woman may elect to be treated for a cancer that may never be harmful to her, however the treatment itself may cause her harm.

    It is not yet possible to tell exactly which breast cancers may become life-threatening and which may not.
  • Further tests are done, but breast cancer is not found
    If an area of concern or a change in your breast tissue is found on your screening mammogram, you will be called back to BreastScreen SA’s Assessment Clinic for further tests. These tests will include further mammography, ultrasound and possibly a clinical breast examination or biopsy. While this may be an anxious time for women, most will be reassured they do not have breast cancer.

Women are encouraged to discuss their options for breast screening with their doctor. If you have any further questions, you can call BreastScreen SA on 132050 and speak with one of our Medical Officers.