The BreastScreenNT program is a free breast screening program for women without signs or symptoms of breast cancer.
A screening mammogram is a low dose x-ray that allows a doctor to see the inside of your breast.
It can detect breast cancer at an early stage before it can be felt or noticed.
Who is eligible
If you are between 40 and 74 years old, you are encouraged to have a free screening mammogram. It is recommended you should be screened every two years.
Research shows that a screening mammogram is the most effective way to detect breast cancer for women in this age group.
If you are aged between 40 and 49, or 75 and over, you should talk to your GP about whether you should have a free screening mammogram.
If you have a significant family history of breast cancer, you should talk to your GP.
If you are under 40
Screening mammograms are not effective for women under 40.
Hormones mean your breast tissue is denser when you are younger.
On a mammogram, dense breast tissue shows up as a white area. Breast cancers also appear white so are more difficult to see on a younger woman's mammograms.
If you have symptoms
If you have symptoms of breast cancer, you should talk to your GP about a diagnostic mammogram.
You can have a diagnostic mammogram if you notice a change in your breast such as:
- a lump
- dimpling of the skin
- thickening or swelling of part of the breast
- redness or flaky skin on the breast
- pain in the breast area.
It is usually performed in a general diagnostic imaging practice.
You will need a referral from a GP or surgeon and it will usually include other imaging such as an ultrasound and a biopsy.
If you don't have symptoms
If you have no symptoms of breast cancer and you are aged between 40 and 74, you can make an appointment for a free screening mammogram.
Not all cancers will be detected through screening.
Some cancers cannot be seen on a screening mammogram and some cancers develop during the time between screening mammograms.
A screening mammogram may also detect abnormalities in the breast tissue. These may need further tests but do not turn out to be cancer.
Preparing for your screening
Wear a separate top and bottom as you will need to remove your top and bra during your breast screen.
Do not wear talcum powder or deodorant on the day of your appointment as it may affect your breast screen.
You should arrive 10 minutes before your appointment to complete your paperwork.
During the screening
A radiographer will take two x-ray pictures of each breast.
Your breasts will be compressed for about 10 seconds when the picture is being taken. This means a clear picture can be taken with the least amount of radiation.
The digital pictures can be displayed on a high-resolution computer screen and looked at closely by two specially trained doctors called radiologists.
It can take between four to six weeks to get your results. They will be mailed to you, and your doctor if you request.
You may be called back to an assessment clinic for more tests.
You will be contacted by a breast care nurse who will explain what happens next and answer any questions you may have.
If you have to go to an assessment clinic and live outside Darwin or Alice Springs, you may be eligible for help with travel and accommodation costs.
Mammograms are safe as there is minimal exposure to radiation.
For most women, the benefits of regular screening mammograms outweigh any possible risk from radiation exposure.
If you are taking hormone replacement therapy
Regular screening is recommended if you are taking hormone replacement therapy (HRT).
You should have a breast screen every two years unless otherwise advised.
If you are breastfeeding or pregnant
Pregnant women are advised to wait until after their pregnancy before having a screening mammogram.
This is because the breast tissue is denser during pregnancy which shows up as solid white on the breast screen, making small cancers impossible to see.
If you are breastfeeding, you are advised not to have a screening mammogram until six months after you have stopped breastfeeding.
Women who are breastfeeding or pregnant can have a diagnostic mammogram organised by their GP if they have symptoms.
If you have breast implants
Breast cancer screening is usually safe for women with implants. Breast implants can make it harder to see small breast cancers.
There is a very slight chance of damage to the implant but this is rare.
You will be asked to sign an additional consent form.
How to make an appointment
You can make an appointment by calling 13 20 50.
You don't need a doctor's referral.
If you have any concerns or notice any changes in your breasts, you should contact your GP.
There are permanent screening facilities in Darwin and Palmerston.
For all other remote areas, read about BreastScreenNT bus to find out where and when you can be screened.
The breast screening program is run by Cancer Screening Services.
Level 1 Casuarina Health Services Centre
9 Scaturchio Street
Casuarina NT 0810
Open from Monday to Friday.
Palmerston Health Precinct
Corner of Gurd and Roystonea Avenue
Palmerston NT 0830
Open on Mondays and Tuesdays.
There are two screening blocks each year from April to May, and August to September.
Remote screening is done through the BreastScreenNT four-wheel drive bus - read the current schedule.
For more information, go to the BreastScreen Australia website.
Last updated: 15 October 2020
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