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Brought to you by Health New Zealand | Te Whatu Ora – Southern and WellSouth primary health network

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Breast Screening

Breast cancer is the most common cancer affecting New Zealand women, with more than 3,000 diagnosed every year.

Why go? 

Breast cancer is the most common cancer affecting New Zealand women, with more than 3,000 diagnosed every year. It affects more Maori women than other women. Mammograms can show changes inside a breast before they can be felt. Regular mammograms can save lives by finding breast cancer early before it spreads. Getting a regular mammogram every 2 years gives you the best chance of picking up any changes and can reduce your risk of dying from breast cancer by more than a third. Breast cancer found early can mean you need less treatment than you would if it was found later and had spread to other parts of the body.

The risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer increases with age. Breast cancer is more common in women over 50. About 70% of women who are diagnosed with breast cancer and about 80% of women who die from it are 50 years or older.

Eligible women aged 45 - 69 can get a free mammogram every 2 years.

In women aged 45 - 69 mammograms can find between 8 and 9 out of 10 cancers. It is still important to look for changes to your breasts between mammograms and talk to your doctor about these immediately.

Checking for Symptoms

Get to know what your breasts look and feel like normally, so you can see or feel any changes that are unusual for you.

For example:

  • Changes in shape or size

  • An inverted nipple

  • A new lump or thickening

  • Puckering or dimpling

  • Rash on the nipple or reddened skin on your breast

  • Discharge from your nipple

If you notice any of these changes, don’t wait for your next mammogram, see your doctor as soon as possible. These symptoms may not be cancer, but you need to get them checked - it could save your life.

Reducing Your Risk

Breast cancer cannot be prevented, but there are some things that can increase or reduce your risk.

Other things that can increase your risk of breast cancer include:

  • Previous diagnosis of breast cancer

  • Inheriting a faulty gene

  • Previous breast biopsy showing a condition that increases risk

  • Strong family history of breast and/or ovarian cancer

  • Exposure to repeated or high-dose radiation

The risk of breast cancer may be reduced by:

  • Limiting alcohol intake

  • Maintaining a healthy weight after menopause

  • Exercising regularly

Talk to your GP about your personal risk of breast cancer.

Dense Breasts

Breast density can make it harder to diagnose breast cancer from a mammogram. Digital mammography is now used for screening mammograms, which makes it easier to detect cancers in dense breasts.

Hormone replacement therapy

If you are on hormone replacement therapy (HRT), talk to your doctor about whether it's right for you. It can be harder for the mammogram’s X-rays to show any cancer, and taking HRT for symptoms of menopause for more than 5 years can double your risk of breast cancer. Talk to your GP if you have any concerns.

  • Eligible women aged between 45 and 69 can get a free mammogram every 2 years as part of a programme run by BreastScreen Aotearoa.

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