During my last visit to the GP, my doctor mentioned that maybe it was time to book in a Breast Screen. She suggested that even though I wasn’t 50 yet, it was probably a good idea to get a mammogram just so we’d have something to compare my future scans to down the track. A ‘boob baseline’ if you will.
I’ve always had lumpy breasts with several benign cysts, which has made it difficult for me to be confident with my self-examinations. Ultrasounds in the past have given the cysts the ‘all-clear’ but I’m always wary.
If you are over 50 (and live in Australia), you may have already been invited to your local Breast Screen clinic for a free mammogram.
Breast cancer is the most common cancer in Australian women and early detection of cancerous changes before symptoms appear, result in much better treatment options and outcomes. The risk of breast cancer increases with age with 75% of cancers occurring in women over 50, hence the free screening programs.
But you don’t have to wait till you are 50
Every state and territory in Australia has a fully subsidised Breast Screen service available for women 40-74. I’ll link to them all below.
Even though it’s not commonly advertised, if you are between 40 and 50 you are eligible for a free breast screen.
It’s not always recommended because ‘younger’ breast tissue is more dense and shows up as white areas on the X-ray (as does cancerous tissue), so the mammogram results are not always as reliable.
If you are over 40, or nearing 50, have a chat to your doctor to decide if Breast Screening is right for you.
My first Mammogram – What happens at a Breast Screen?
Us ladies always seem to get a raw deal when it comes to health checks. Pap smears aren’t my favourite thing, but a necessary evil.
Side note – You only need to get a Cervical Screening test every 5 years now if you are HPV free. Yay!
A mammogram isn’t as invasive, but it’s still a little bit intimidating for some women.
But my experience wasn’t scary at all.
I booked online and chose a convenient appointment time. I actually totally forgot about my first appointment and had to re-book a second one (facepalm!)
All the staff at the clinic were women.
At the appointment I was ushered through to a change room area and asked to remove all my clothing from the waist up and put on a disposable gown. You leave your clothing in the change room but take your handbag/valuables with you.
Tip: Wear separates with a top that’s easy to remove.
The radiographer invites you into a private screening room and explain what’s going to happen.
A mammogram is low dose X-ray. The machine used is especially designed to take images of breasts from several angles. It has a plate that squishes your breast down flat (a bit like a boob pancake) for about 10 seconds while the x-ray is taken. It’s uncomfortable but not painful.
Apparently after menopause, breast tissue isn’t as dense and can be flattened with less discomfort.
Two images were taken of each breast, one from the top, and one from the side. If you are uncomfortable you can ask for the procedure to stop at any time.
The radiographer was very gentle and helped me get in to a comfortable and suitable position for the imaging.
All up, the whole Breast Screen procedure only took 10 minutes, which was much quicker than I expected.
Book your Breast Screen
I’m turning 45 this year and it’s dawning on me that I’m properly middle-aged. Us middle-aged ladies seem to be really good at looking after everyone else in our lives – kids, partners and increasingly our parents, so it’s important not to forget that we need to look after ourselves too.
You can book a Breast Screen here – no doctor’s referral is required.