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Why can't I get a free mammogram if I'm under 40?

Friday 10 March 2017

A group of women stand in a park smiling.
Being breast aware is important for women of all ages.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in Queensland women; it accounts for 30 per cent of all cancers in women. It’s important for all women to be breast aware and know the possible signs and symptoms of breast cancer. So why aren’t all women eligible for free mammograms under the BreastScreen Queensland program?

BreastScreen Queensland provides free, high quality breast cancer screening and assessment services for women aged 50 to 74 years, as this is the age group where the benefits from screening have been most clearly demonstrated.

Although women 40 to 49 years can also access the BreastScreeen Program, it does not cater for younger women. There are important reasons why this is the case:

  • young breasts tend to have denser tissue, which makes it difficult to see breast cancer on a mammogram
  • there are concerns about the effects of regular radiation from mammograms on young breast tissue
  • and there is no evidence that mammograms are effective in detecting early stage breast cancer in women younger than 40.

Great! So I don’t have to worry about breast cancer until I turn 40?

While it’s less common for women younger than 40 to get breast cancer, it is very important for women under 40 to be aware of their breasts and breast cancer symptoms.

So, what can younger women do to identify and help prevent breast cancer?

Get familiar with your breasts: be breast aware

Being breast aware is important for women of all ages. This means knowing the normal look and feel of your breasts, including the tissue above and below the breast and across into the armpit.

Remember that your breasts may look and feel different throughout your menstrual cycle, so it’s important to get familiar with how your breasts normally change throughout the month.

Keep an eye out for any of the following changes to your breasts, which may appear in one or both breasts:

  • any new lumps or lumpiness
  • a change in the size of your breasts, the shape or how they sit
  • a difference in your nipples like crusting, discharge when squeezed or redness
  • a newly ‘inverted’ nipple, meaning the nipple is pulled backwards into the breast
  • redness, dimpling or puckered skin on your breast
  • a pain that doesn’t go away.

If you notice any of these changes, or any other unusual changes in your breasts, see your doctor immediately.

Maintain general health

Keeping healthy by maintaining a healthy weight, exercising, eating healthy foods, limiting alcohol and not smoking can help reduce breast cancer risk.

Separate fact from fiction

There are a number of common myths about breast cancer that have not been proven true. Women should not worry that wearing an underwire bra or being bumped on the breast will cause breast cancer.

What if I have a family history of breast cancer?

If you have a family history of breast cancer, which means one or more of your immediate family members has had breast cancer, talk to your doctor about the best process for screening for breast cancer moving forward.

What if I have breast implants?

Women of any age who have breast implants or who have had breast reduction surgery should practice breast awareness and be aware of the normal look and feel of their breasts.

Women with breast implants can have mammograms. They should have regular mammograms as recommended by BreastScreen Queensland or by their doctor.

While mammograms are considered safe for women with breast implants, there is an extremely small chance that the pressure placed on a breast implant during a mammogram could cause it to rupture or leak, or could exacerbate an existing leak. Before having a mammogram, you will be provided with information about mammograms and breast implants and asked to provide additional consent to have the procedure.

What about men?

While it’s much rarer than in women, men can also have breast cancer. It’s important that men, too, are aware of the normal look and feel of their breasts and see their doctor know if they notice any unusual changes.

See your doctor about any concerns

If you are concerned about your breast health for any reason or are experiencing any worry or anxiety about breast cancer, make an appointment to talk about it with your doctor.

Last updated: 13 March 2018