Start having regular mammograms from the age of 40.
A screening mammogram is the best method for the early detection of breast cancer in women who have no signs or symptoms of breast cancer, in other words, ‘well’ women. Aging is one of the biggest risk factors for breast cancer as 70% of all cancers occur in women 50 plus. The Foundation recommends a screening mammogram as follows:
• Every year for women aged between 40 and 49 years
• Every two years for women from the age of 50 – 73 years
• After 70, in discussion with your doctor
Don't schedule a mammogram the week before your period is due as your breasts may be a little tender then. If anxious, buddy up with a friend and get your mammogram together. Communicate with the health professional during your mammogram if you need reassurance or have questions. The whole procedure should be over in less than 15 minutes. Be aware that breast cancer can occur between mammograms so act on any breast changes by showing your doctor.
Women between 40 and 44 years, unless referred by their doctor, will need to pay for their mammogram
Screening and Diagnostic Mammograms are available throughout NZ at private breast clinics and radiology clinics. The cost of a mammogram is approximately $180. Some (but not all) NZ private health insurance companies will reimburse the cost of a private screening or diagnostic mammogram.
However if your doctor is concerned about your symptoms, you can get referred to a public hospital at no cost or choose to pay for a mammogram from a private breast clinic. Look up our pink pages for a local radiology clinic or google 'mammograms (your area)'.
Free mammograms for women 45-69 years
The Foundation strongly supports the New Zealand National Breast Screening Programme, BreastScreen Aotearoa. They provide free* breast screening mammograms to women with no symptoms between 45 and 69 years of age every two years. The programme’s aim is to reduce the number of New Zealand women who die from breast cancer. For your first free breast screening mammogram, you are required to enrol in the programme by phoning the toll free number 0800 270 200 or visit www.nsu.govt.nz
*Some conditions apply:
• You have no symptoms of breast cancer
• You have not had a mammogram in the last 12 months
• You are not pregnant or breastfeeding
• You are eligible for public health services in NZ
Over 70? Keep screening if you're in good health. You're more at risk of breast cancer now than in your 50's. Talk to your GP about where to go for mammograms. And be vigilant about checking your breasts for any changes.
Be Breast Aware
By examining your breasts, you get to know how your breasts look and feel. Therefore, you may increase your likelihood of early detection of breast cancer, if it develops. The Foundation recommends women are breast aware from 20 years of age. Women who are breast aware are more likely to notice changes to their breasts. If you wish to examine your breasts, good places to do this are:
- In front of a mirror
- In the shower or bath
The way you do this, doesn’t matter, as research has shown a decrease in the death rate from a diagnosis of breast cancer does not occur from following a particular breast self check technique. The New Zealand Breast Cancer Foundation has a free shower card, Priorities in Breast Awareness (PDF, 229Kb) which includes information on being breast aware.