BreastScreen Australia is the national breast cancer screening program. It aims to reduce illness and death from breast cancer through an organised approach to the early detection of breast cancer, using screening mammography to detect unsuspected breast cancer in women. Detection at an early stage provides an opportunity for early treatment, which can reduce illness and death. Women aged 40 and over are eligible for free mammograms every 2 years.

This report is the latest in the BreastScreen Australia monitoring report series, which is published annually to provide regular monitoring of BreastScreen Australia. The latest data available for women aged 50–74―the target age group since 1 July 2013―are presented.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed in Australian women

Breast cancer is the most common cancer affecting Australian women. In 2013, there were 9,581 new cases of invasive breast cancer diagnosed in women aged 50–74, which is equivalent to 313 new cases per 100,000 women.

Incidence increased from around 200 new cases per 100,000 women aged 50–74 in the years before BreastScreen Australia began in 1991, to 300 new cases per 100,000 in 2000. For the years 2000 to 2013, incidence remained around 300 new cases per 100,000 women.

Breast cancer is the second most common cause of cancer-related death in Australian women, behind lung cancer. In 2014, 1,404 women aged 50–74 died from breast cancer, which is equivalent to 45 deaths per 100,000 women aged 50–74.

Breast cancer mortality has decreased since BreastScreen Australia began from 74 deaths per 100,000 women aged 50–74 in 1991 to less than 50 deaths per 100,000 since 2010.

More than half of targeted women participate in BreastScreen Australia

In both the 2-year periods 2014–2015 and 2015–2016, more than 1.7 million women aged 50–74 had a screening mammogram through BreastScreen Australia, which is around 54% of the target population. Participation has stayed between 54% and 55% since 2010–2011.

A small proportion of women are recalled for further investigation

In 2015, 12% of women who screened for the first time, and 4% of women attending a subsequent screen, had a screening mammogram result indicating they should be recalled for further investigation. These rates are similar to those in 2014.

More than half the cancers detected by BreastScreen Australia are small

Small breast cancers (≤15 mm in diameter) tend to be associated with more treatment options, lower morbidity and improved survival. In 2015, 48% of breast cancers detected in women attending their first screen, and 61% of breast cancers detected in women attending a subsequent screen were small. In comparison, it has been shown that just 28% of breast cancers detected outside BreastScreen Australia are small.

Indigenous women have lower screening rates and poorer outcomes

Participation in BreastScreen Australia is lower for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women than for non-Indigenous women—37% compared with 53% in 2014–2015. Incidence of breast cancer is also lower for Indigenous women than for non-Indigenous women, at 227 compared with 283 new cases per 100,000 women aged 50–74. However, mortality from breast cancer is higher for Indigenous women, at 53 deaths per 100,000 women compared with the non-Indigenous rate of 47 deaths per 100,000 women aged 50–74.