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Supporting the successful trial of enhanced breast screening

Start Year: 2017
Finish Year: 2019
Chief Investigator: Dr Jocelyn Lippey
Grant Type: Practitioner Fellowship
Institution: Austin Health | University of Melbourne

Improved early detection is a critical step in improved outcomes from breast cancer and BreastScreen Australia runs a breast screening program which is proven to reduce deaths from breast cancer.

The screening program schedules all eligible women for a mammogram every two years. However, not every woman has the same level of risk of breast cancer. Some women have a very low risk and some women have a higher risk so this fixed schedule may not detect any tumours early enough.

As our understanding of the risk factors for breast cancer increase – such as family genetics, breast density, obesity and other lifestyle factors such as alcohol – more powerful information could be incorporated into the screening process to provide a better understanding of a woman’s likelihood of developing breast cancer.

Dr Jocelyn Lippey
Dr Jocelyn Lippey

Cancer Australia is working on an improved breast screening program that includes these risk factors. This program will first require a trial of Australian women requiring breast screening to determine its suitability for nationwide adoption.

The success of the trial relies on women participating. The challenge is that with more information being collected and analysed by the new screening program, there may be significant changes to what women usually expect from their routine mammogram.

For example, as a result of her reviewing her risk of developing breast cancer, a woman’s routine screenings may be recommended to be more frequent if she is determined to be at high risk, or less frequent if she is low risk.

This type of divergence from current screening practice may be unsettling for women involved. How such a change in relation to their level of risk is communicated to women by healthcare providers is crucial to ensuring participation in the trial.

Women considering participating will need to fully understand any change to their schedule and feel confident that they are still receiving best-practice screening for breast cancer.

NBCF supports this initiative and has funded Dr Jocelyn Lippey to consult with women and healthcare providers on the most effective way to encourage women to participate in the trial.

Her study will ensure both women and their healthcare providers have the communication tools to understand what the tailored screening trial and subsequent nationwide program will involve, how it will run and what it can achieve, to give the trial and the subsequent program the best chance of being successfully implemented.