Benefits & Risks
It is important women have information to make informed decisions about their health. Weighing up the risks, limitations and benefits will help you decide whether a breastscreen is right for you.
What are the benefits?
- For women over the age of 50, a breastscreen is the best method available for detecting breast cancer early.
- If breast cancer is detected early, there are increased treatment and management options. This is because breast cancer can be treated more effectively when it is still small and has not spread outside the breast to other parts of the body.
- This benefit of breast cancer screening is greatest for women aged 50-69 years old. Research indicates that breast cancer screening in this age group is effective and reduces the overall number of women who die each year from breast cancer.
What are the limitations?
- Women are advised that having a mammogram does not prevent breast cancer from developing. Whilst the vast majority of breast cancers present at the time of screening are diagnosed on a mammogram, the Program does advise women that a small number of breast cancers may not be visible on the mammogram.
- About 10% of all women who have a breastscreen will be recalled to the service to have further tests. This may cause anxiety although most women will be told after these further tests that they don't have breast cancer.
- A breastscreen only detects existing cancer, it does not prevent you from getting breast cancer in the future.
What are the risks?
- A mammogram is a special kind of x-ray. Like other x-rays, you are exposed to a very low dose of radiation during your breastscreen. This dose is continually monitored to ensure it remains as low as possible while still allowing a clear image on the x-ray.
- Research shows that the benefit of detecting cancer early far outweighs the very small risk of having an x-ray.
- A mammogram is sensitive and very small abnormalities can be detected. Some of these abnormalities that will be treated may prove not to be cancers.
- There is a chance that breast cancer can develop between your breastscreen visits. It's important for women to be aware of the normal look and feel of their breasts between their screening visits and contact their doctor if they notice any changes to their breasts.
Law J, Faulkner K, and Young KC. 2007. Risk factors for induction of breast cancer by X-rays and their implications for breast screening. The British Journal of Radiology, 80:261-266.
Radiological Society of North America. 2010. Radiation exposure in X-ray and CT examinations. [cited 2011 4 May]; Available from: http://www.radiologyinfo.org/en/pdf/sfty_xray.pdf
National Radiological Protection Board. 2001. X-rays - How safe are they? [cited 2011 4 May]; Available from: http://www.hpa.org.uk/web/HPAwebFile/HPAweb_C/1194947388410
Woloshin S, and Schwartz, LM. 2010. The benefits and harms of mammography screening. Journal of the American Medical Association, 303:164-165.
Last reviewed 14 February 2013
Last updated 14 February 2013