- How do I look and feel for changes in my breasts?
- What is breast cancer?
- How common is breast cancer?
- Can men get breast cancer?
- What are the main risk factors for breast cancer?
- I have been screened before and this is the first time I have received a Dense Breast letter. Does this mean my breasts have changed?
- Can you have a mammogram while you are breastfeeding?
- Can you have a mammogram with a pacemaker?
- How often should I have a mammogram if I am a DES mother/daughter?
- Is it recommended for transgender women to have mammograms?
- Will I be told about changes on the mammogram which are not due to breast cancer?
- Tomosynthesis / 3D Mammography - What is 3D mammography? Is 3D Mammography better than 2D Mammography in screening for breast cancer? Does BreastScreen WA use 3D Mammography for screening?
1. How do I look and feel for changes in my breasts?
There is currently no evidence to support a specific method for checking your breasts. Please discuss with your family GP if you want more information on checking your breasts.
Breasts come in all shapes and sizes and will change throughout your life. Your menstrual cycle, pregnancy, age and weight may alter the size, shape and feel of your breasts.
It is important to be breast aware
- Get to know your own breasts so that you will know what is normal for you. Look in the mirror at your breasts and feel your breasts from time to time.
- Ask your GP about breast health at your next check-up.
What breast changes should I be aware of?
See your family doctor/GP promptly if you notice any of the following unusual breast changes:
- A lump, lumpiness or thickening in the breast or armpit
- Changes in the nipple such as inversion, new nipple discharge, itchy or ulcerated skin
- Changes in the skin of the breast such as dimpling, puckering or redness
- An area of the breast that feels different from the rest
- New persistent breast pain
Lately, I have noticed a change in one or both of my breasts. Is this cancer and what should I do?
Many women are concerned a breast change might be breast cancer. Even though this will not be true in most cases, it is very important all breast changes are carefully investigated. If it is breast cancer, finding it early will mean a much better chance of effective treatment.
If you notice a breast change or experience a breast symptom you should see your family doctor/GP without delay.
2. What is breast cancer?
Breast cancer is a group of abnormal cells which continues to grow and multiply. Eventually these cells may form a lump in the breast. If the cancer is not removed or controlled the cancer cells can spread to other parts of the body and may eventually cause death.
More information on Breast Cancer.
3. How common is breast cancer?
- Women in Australia have a 1 in 8 risk of developing breast cancer in their lifetime.
- The risk of breast cancer increases with age. Over 75% of breast cancers occur in women over 50 years of age.
4. Can men get breast cancer?
Breast cancer can develop in men, but this is rare. Male breast cancer accounts for about 1% of all breast cancer.
For men, the harms of screening mammograms are currently assessed as outweighing the benefits. These harms include undergoing unnecessary procedures, discomfort during screening, and exposure to low-dose radiation. As a result, men are not targeted in the BreastScreen Australia program and are instead encouraged to report any changes or concerns they have about their breasts to their doctor.
The Men get breast cancer too! free booklet can be ordered by calling Breast Cancer Network Australia (BCNA) on 1800 500 258.
For more information on breast cancer in men, visit BCNA or Cancer Australia.
5. What are the main risk factors for breast cancer?
The cause of breast cancer is unknown.
Some risk factors identified as increasing your chances of developing breast cancer include:
- being a woman 50 years or over
- having a strong family history of breast cancer
- having previously been diagnosed with breast cancer
More information on Risk and Lifestyle factors.
6. I have been screened before and this is the first time I have received a Dense Breast letter. Does this mean my breasts have changed?
A women’s breast density does not usually increase after menopause, unless she starts taking Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT).
If you have not started taking HRT since your last screening mammogram it would be unusual for your breast density to have changed a great deal. Your breast density may in fact be slightly less dense than your previous studies.
All BreastScreen WA mammograms are read by two specialist doctors (radiologists). What has changed is that Breast Screen WA has modified its way of determining which women screened by the program will be getting a Dense Breast letter. Prior to the middle of 2017 for a woman to get a dense breast letter two radiologists needed to report the woman’s mammogram as dense. Breast Screen WA believes it is important that women with dense breasts receive a Dense Breast letter, and now a dense breast letter is generated if one radiologist reports the mammogram as dense.
Breast Screen WA appreciates that this change in the Dense Breast letter generation process may be confusing for some women and the service apologises for any inconvenience or worry this modification may cause women screened with the program.
Further information about what Breast Density means for a woman is available here.
7. Can you have a mammogram while you are breastfeeding?
Women who are breast feeding are advised to postpone their screening mammogram until three months after they have finished lactation. This is because a woman's breast tissue is very dense whilst breast feeding, and a mammogram may not be as effective during this period.
8. Can you have a mammogram with a pacemaker?
BreastScreen WA do screen women with pacemakers. The positioning sometimes has to be altered a bit if the pacemaker is very prominent.
9. How often should I have a mammogram if I am a DES mother/daughter?
Women who were prescribed Diethylstilbestrol (DES) while pregnant and DES daughters who are over 40 are advised to follow normal screening recommendations (every two years).
Annual screening is not recommended and as per usual recommendations please see your GP if you have any unusual breast changes. More information here.
10. Is it recommended for transgender women to have mammograms?
No, transgender women's risk of breast cancer is very low, similar to that of a male and screening mammography is therefore not recommended. (reference J Sex Med, 10 (12) (2013), pp. 129–134). If you have any questions please talk to your GP.
11. Will I be told about changes on the mammogram which are not due to breast cancer?
Changes seen on a mammogram which are not considered to be a sign of breast cancer are not reported on and women will not be notified of these benign changes.
12. Tomosynthesis / 3D Mammography
What is 3D Mammography?
Three-dimensional mammography (also called digital breast tomosynthesis) uses special computer software to create a 3D image of the breast using x-rays (mammograms) taken at different angles. A standard mammogram creates a two-dimensional (2D) image of the breast.
Is 3D Mammography better than 2D Mammography in screening for breast cancer?
Currently there is no evidence that 3D Mammography is superior in reducing death from breast cancer compared to standard 2D Mammography.
Does BreastScreen WA use 3D Mammography for screening?
BreastScreen WA uses 2D Mammography in screening because there is no evidence that 3D Mammography is superior in reducing mortality from breast cancer.
BreastScreen Australia, is actively reviewing the published medical evidence on 3D Mammography, and future decisions on breast cancer screening technology will be based on the best robust medical evidence as that evidence emerges.