I had a mammogram recently and the whole experience made me tear up with gratitude and joy. An odd reaction perhaps, but my joy and gratitude was for the free health screening services provided by the Australian government.
Free Health Screening
I have written about the bowel cancer screening program which is provided to all Australians over 50 in a previous post. Once you turn 50, the Government sends you a kit every 5 years to test your poo for blood. If you get a positive result, like I did last year, you’ll be scheduled for a colonoscopy.
Free mammograms are available for all women (cis or trans) between 50 and 74. It is recommended you have the procedure every two years. Breastscreen NSW provides the service in my home state, but each state has a similar service.
Every two years.
My regular two-year check up was a lovely experience. I know that sounds a bit cheesy but bear with me! For many women, the idea of having their breasts squeezed firmly between two plates is not much fun. Yes, it is uncomfortable and yes, someone you don’t know will be handling your breasts and “smoothing” them out on the plate BUT the surroundings and the care and kindness offered by the people who work there, make it a pleasant experience.
The clinics are nicely furnished and softly lit. The receptionist greets you in a friendly and courteous manner. You’ll be asked to fill out a form. Since there were still COVID restrictions at the time I had the procedure, most of this form had been filled out two days prior to my visit when the lovely receptionist rang me. This meant I didn’t have to be at the clinic any longer than necessary.
Once in the treatment room, the radiographer asked me to get undressed from the waist up and checked my identity again. The lights were dim and the room was well heated.
I was then positioned in front of the machine and the radiographer told me how to stand and gently guided me to get the correct positions, before retreating behind the screen to take the shots. These days the images are recorded digitally rather than on film. You have a front image and a side image of each breast.
It takes about twenty minutes, then you get dressed and leave! You get the results after about two weeks. A letter is also sent to your GP. If there are any abnormalities your doctor will contact you.
I couldn’t find an Australian video showing what to expect but here’s one from John Hopkins.
You don’t need a referral for the screening once you are over 50. Like the bowel cancer kits, you’ll get your first invitation as a fiftieth birthday present! After that, you’ll get a reminder every two years.
Ultrasound vs X-rays?
I spoke to an ultrasound technician (My Cousin Kris!) and she said that ultrasound images are superior to x-rays especially for women with smaller breasts because they have better resolution.
Ultrasound scans are not part of the free screening program and you will need to pay for it yourself unless the place you go to bulk bills. She recommended you get an ultrasound every second time you get an x-ray screening image to increase the chance of detection.
Breast cancer is diagnosed in close to 20,000 Australians each year. It accounts for 6% of cancer deaths. The 5 year survival rate is high (91%) because of services such as the screening program which allows for early detection. Early detection of any cancer is vital for successful treatment, so why wouldn’t you take advantage of the Breastscreen Service?
So don’t be scared – bare your boobs in the name of good health!