Detection and screening methods

There are numerous ways that breast cancer can be detected, and women may go through all or some of these at some point in their lives. Most women will receive an invitation to a free routine mammogram once they turn 50 and should also be on the look out for symptoms of breast cancer. Other detection methods may be used in combination to confirm breast cancer. The National Breast Cancer Foundation is funding research that will help to refine these detection methods and develop new, more accurate ways to detect tumours early.

Clinical examination

A clinical breast examination involves a thorough physical examination of the whole breast area, including both breasts, nipples, armpits and up to the collarbone. The doctor will also ask about the woman’s personal and family history of breast cancer and whether she has any symptoms.

Mammograms

A mammogram is an x-ray picture of the breast. Mammograms are used to check for breast cancer in women who have no signs or symptoms of the disease on a regular basis. This type of mammogram is called a screening mammogram. Screening mammograms usually involve two x-ray pictures, or images, of each breast that are analysed by a radiographer for evidence of tumours.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)

This is a way of producing an image of the inside of the body using magnetic fields. Women under 50 years who are at high risk of breast cancer are eligible for routine screening with MRI under Medicare. To access this screening service, younger women must be referred by a GP or specialist.

Ultrasound

This method uses sound waves to outline a part of the body. A breast ultrasound is used to see whether a breast lump is filled with fluid (a cyst) or if it is a solid lump. An ultrasound does not replace the need for a mammogram, but it is often used to check abnormal results from a mammogram.

Biopsy

A biopsy is the removal of a small sample of tissue from the breast or lymph nodes, for examination under a microscope. Analysis by a pathologist will help diagnose both the presence of breast cancer and its type which will help determine the appropriate treatment plan.