July 2015

Cancer Council is encouraging all eligible Australian women aged 50 to 74 to consider participating in the free BreastScreen program following the release of data showing a downward trend in participation.

New figures from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare show that BreastScreen participation rates for women aged 50 to 69 have fallen from a high of 57.6 per cent in 2001-02 to 53.7 in 2013-14.

The new data follows recent major international analysis from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) which confirmed the life-saving benefits of screening mammography.

Chair of Cancer Council Australia’s Screening and Immunisation Committee, Associate Professor Karen Canfell, said the IARC analysis showed that women aged 50 – 69 invited for mammogram screening had an average 23 per cent reduction in the risk of breast cancer death.

"That translates to thousands of premature breast cancer deaths prevented over the past 20 years – a number that would be increased if more women participated in the screening program," A/Professor Canfell said.

"Breast cancer is the most common cancer in Australian women and the second most common cause of cancer death in women, however most breast cancers can be successfully treated if found early.

"Screening saves lives, so we need to encourage more eligible women to consider the benefits of participating in the BreastScreen program."

A/Professor Canfell said screening also carried the risk of harms such as over-diagnosis and over-treatment, so it was important that women were advised of the risks and the benefits before participating.

Newly released data also showed that Australian women’s participation in cervical cancer screening has remained steady at 57.8 per cent.

"Australia's cervical screening program is the main reason we have among the world's lowest cervical cancer death rates," A/Professor Canfell said. "Participation rates are good, but we could prevent more cervical cancer deaths if more women aged 18 to 69 had their Pap test every two years."

BreastScreen invites women 50 to 74 to participate in breast cancer screening using mammograms every two years. Women aged 40 to 49 or aged 75 and over can also attend the service free of charge.

Women aged 18 to 69 years, including those who have had the HPV vaccine, are encouraged to participate in cervical cancer screening every two years.