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Detection and screening methods

There are many ways that breast cancer can be detected – some of which are used in combination until a diagnosis is proven. NBCF is funding research to refine and develop new, more accurate ways to detect tumours early.

Regardless of these methods, all women should be “breast aware” and keep a look-out for any symptoms of breast cancer.

Clinical examination

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


mammogram is an x-ray picture of the breast. Mammograms are used to regularly check for breast cancer in women who have no signs or symptoms of the disease. Women over 50 are eligible for free mammogram screenings. Screening mammograms usually involve two x-ray pictures of each breast that are analysed by a radiographer for evidence of tumours.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)

An MRI produces an image of the inside of the body using magnetic fields. Women under 50 years of age who are at high risk of breast cancer are eligible for routine screenings with MRI under Medicare. To access this service, younger women must be referred by their GP or specialist.


An ultrasound 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 is often used to check abnormal results from a mammogram.


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. This will confirm diagnosis and help determine the appropriate treatment plan.