COVID-19 frequently asked questions
What is happening with BreastScreen services?
Some breast screening services across Australia have temporarily closed their breast screening services due to the Coronavirus (COVID-19). This is a precautionary measure to protect women, the BreastScreen staff and the general population from exposure to COVID-19.
Will all services be closed across Australia?
Some services remain open at this stage, you may wish to contact 132050 for more information. A range of factors are considered when deciding whether to close a service, and these factors vary across the country.
When will closures begin?
Some service have already temporarily closed. However, as this program is managed at a state and territory level your local breast screening provider may still be open. You may wish to contact your local breast screening provider for more information.
Why has BreastScreen closed in some locations but not others?
Decisions about closing BreastScreen services are made locally. The impact of COVID-19 currently differs by location, so the balance of risks and benefits is also different.
When will my local BreastScreen service re-open?
It is not yet clear when BreastScreen services will resume, or if this will vary by location. You may wish to contact your local breast screening provider and ask to be notified when appointments become available.
What will happen when my local BreastScreen service re-opens?
Once your local screening provider has re-opened they will prioritise women for screening, including those who have missed their appointments during the closure period.
If I recently had a mammogram through BreastScreen, will I get my results?
Yes, you will still receive your results, including whether further investigations are recommended.
I have been recalled by BreastScreen for further investigations (assessment). Will this still go ahead?
Yes, BreastScreen is still providing assessment services for women who have been recalled following the results of their screening mammogram. If you have been recalled but are unsure about the appointment time and location please call your local BreastScreen provider.
What is the risk of delaying a screening mammogram? Aren’t women supposed to have a mammogram every two years?
BreastScreen Australia aims to find cancers early, before women become symptomatic.
For most women, a delay to regular screening mammograms is unlikely to impact the long term health outcomes. If you are concerned about a delay in your mammogram, contact your doctor or health care worker
I am due for my BreastScreen, should I just go and have my mammogram privately?
If you are considering having a mammogram done privately, you may wish to discuss this with your GP or health care worker first. A referral from your GP or health care worker may mean that your mammogram is eligible for a rebate from Medicare, and some imaging services may offer bulk billing for mammograms. A private mammogram without a Medicare rebate may cost over $700.
What if I think I have developed breast cancer and my local BreastScreen service has closed?
Breast screening is for women without symptoms. It is very important to be breast aware and to know the normal look and feel of your breasts. If you find a change in your breast that you think is unusual or you have concerns regarding your breasts please consult your GP or health care worker without delay.
Your GP or health care worker will conduct an assessment to determine further diagnostic measures, such as whether you need to have a mammogram or ultrasound. They will refer you to a local service available and will provide the necessary follow up care, as required.
If my GP recommends that I have a mammogram where would I go?
If your GP or health care worker refers you for a mammogram, ultrasound, or other investigation, they will coordinate this for you and ensure continued follow-up.
Why is BreastScreen not an essential service?
BreastScreen provides a very important service for the early detection of breast cancer, but screening services are not urgent medical procedures. Due to the risk to women and BreastScreen staff of exposure to COVID-19, service providers are suspending their operations where the risk of participation outweighs the benefits.
What should I do if I am anxious about COVID and cancer risks?
If you are concerned about your delay in screening please discuss with your GP or health worker. If you have more general concerns about COVID and your risk of breast cancer, you may wish to call one of the following helplines.
- The Breast Cancer Network of Australia (BCNA) is committed to supporting those who are feeling anxious during these uncertain times. BCNA have expanded their Helpline hours to include Saturday and Sunday 9 – 5pm. If you have any questions or concerns related to the temporary closure of BreastScreen services, please don’t hesitate to call one of the Cancer nurses on the BCNA Helpline. BCNA can provide support and information for well women in addition to people affected by breast cancer.
- You can call BCNA on 1800 500 258. Any changes to the extended Helpline hours will be updated on our website. Further information is available on Breast health and awareness. If you would like to connect with others who have experienced breast cancer, BCNA's Online Network can be accessed through our website
- Cancer Council also offers a free, confidential telephone information and support service run by Cancer Councils in each state and territory. If you have a question about cancer, or if you're seeking emotional or practical support, you may wish to call 13 11 20 during business hours, to speak with their specially trained staff.
- If need to speak to someone, Lifeline is available 24 hours a day 7 days a week by calling 13 11 14. For counselling support from a mental health professional, you can call Beyond Blue on 1300 224 436. Beyond Blue is available 24 hours a day 7 days a week.
Will other screening programs be affected?
Any changes to the other screening programs related to the current pandemic will be announced on cancerscreening.gov.au. These programs are provided in other settings, and other factors relating to COVID-19 may be more relevant.
General frequently asked questions
I have moved house, what happens to my screening appointment?
Please contact BreastScreen Australia on 13 20 50 and advise them of your change of address. You can arrange for another appointment close to where you live.
I have had breast cancer in the past. Do I still need to make an appointment with BreastScreen Australia?
If you have had breast cancer in the past and are currently under the care of a specialist, your specialist will arrange a mammogram for you on a yearly basis. It is best to attend the mammogram that your specialist arranges for you. If you are unsure of which appointment is best for you, please contact BreastScreen Australia on 13 20 50.
What are the potential benefits of attending BreastScreen?
Preventing death from breast cancer, less invasive treatment and reassurance.
BreastScreen and You provides further information to help women choose whether or not to take part in BreastScreen Australia.
What are the potential harms of attending BreastScreen?
Finding and treating breast cancers that may not have become life threatening; further tests done but breast cancer not found; and breast cancer is present but not found.
BreastScreen and You provides further information to help women choose whether or not to take part in BreastScreen Australia
If I receive a normal result, does this mean I am OK until my next screen?
No. Even if you have two-yearly mammograms, it is still important to be breast aware because breast cancer can develop at any time. This includes the time between screening appointments.
How will I get my results?
Most women will get their results in the mail in about two weeks. If you have agreed, your results will also be sent to your GP. If you haven’t received your results or if you have any questions about your results letter, please call BreastScreen Australia on 13 20 50 (for the cost of a local call).
Should women with a disability have a mammogram?
Women with a disability have the same level of risk of breast cancer as other women. BreastScreen Australia services endeavour to ensure that services are acceptable to and accessible and appropriate for women with disabilities.
- Breastscreen Australia's National Accreditation Standards require services to meet the needs of women with a disability by:
- ensuring that appropriate information and support is available to women with an intellectual disability and/or a low level of literacy or with a sight or hearing disability;
- ensure that physical access is provided for women in wheelchairs or with a physical disability that limits their mobility;
- ensure that longer appointment times are made available if necessary;
- ensure that appropriate consent is obtained;
- ensure that all staff of the Service are adequately trained and equipped to provide care for women with a disability
- ensure that, with the woman's or her carer's consent, her nominated general practitioner is informed if a woman seeks advice about participating in, or if she attends for screening or assessment, and the service is unable to be provided as a result of the woman's disability.
For more information about access to BreastScreen Australia services please call 13 20 50 (for the cost of a local call). We recommend that you talk to staff about any particular requirements you may have when you make your booking.
What if I am worried about screening?
Screening is safe and a proactive approach in taking care of your health. The screening unit staff will do their best to reassure you and give you support during all stages of your screening. If you have any concerns, please talk to the staff.
I’ve read about a new breast screening technique. Why is it not offered in BreastScreen Australia?
All medical devices must be entered on the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods before they can be supplied in Australia. This ensures that we can provide the best possible service to the greatest number of women. A review found that mammography is the only acceptable screening tool for the detection of breast cancer. This is supported by the International Agency for Research into Cancer, which has examined all the available evidence and determined that mammography is the best early detection method available for detecting breast cancer among women over 50 years of age.
Will my breast implants affect the mammogram?
Mammograms are generally safe for women with implants. There is an extremely small chance that the pressure placed on the implant by the mammography machine could cause the implants to rupture or break. You should discuss with your GP as to whether screening mammogram is suited to your particular circumstances. Should you decide to attend for a screening mammogram, please advise the staff when you make the appointment that you have implants.
I have limited mobility and the radiographer was unable to complete my last mammogram. Is it worth coming for screening?
BreastScreen Australia aims to take high quality images for every mammogram. Sometimes achieving this can be more difficult for people who have a disability or experience mobility issues. If an inadequate image has been taken, and a significant part of the breast was unable to be imaged, a woman will be asked to return to BreastScreen Australia for another mammogram.
What if I am taking HRT, can I have a mammogram?
Yes. Regular screening is recommended for women taking hormone replacement therapy (HRT). Women with concerns regarding HRT should discuss them with their doctor.
I have a pacemaker, can I have a mammogram?
Yes, it is safe for you to have a mammogram. It is helpful if you can tell the mammographer where your pacemaker is sited.
I am 75, can I have an appointment?
Yes. While women 50-74 years of age are invited to attend BreastScreen Australia, women 75 and older can also have a free screening mammogram through the program. If you are 75 or older, we recommend talking to your GP about whether breast screening is right for you.
I have undergone reconstructive surgery, can I still be screened?
This will depend on your reconstructive surgery and how much breast tissue still remains. We suggest you consult your GP or contact BreastScreen Australia on 13 20 50.
Can I have a mammogram if I have symptoms or indications of breast cancer?
No. It’s important if you think you have any symptoms of breast cancer that you see your doctor, who may refer you for diagnostic procedures.
What is the difference between a screening mammogram and a diagnostic mammogram?
The key difference is the purpose for which the mammogram is done.
If a mammogram is performed in the BreastScreen Australia program it is a free breast x-ray test for women who do not have any symptoms and do not require a doctor’s referral. A diagnostic mammogram is for women who have clinical breast cancer symptoms which require investigation. This requires a doctor’s referral to a private or public radiology practice.
Diagnostic mammograms are not offered within the BreastScreen Australia program, except as part of further assessment following a screening mammogram that shows an abnormal area. Diagnostic mammograms are often conducted with additional tests such as ultrasound.
Is thermography better than mammography to detect breast cancer?
Thermography has been around for a long time and has been well studied, but it has never been shown to be a good tool for detecting breast cancer early.
Mammography is the only technique that has the potential to detect very small and very early breast cancers. Both thermography and mammography are not 100 per cent accurate, but for now mammography is the best tool we have.
Are free mammograms available to men as part of the BreastScreen Australia program?
Breast cancer is both rarer and more difficult to detect in men, and the harms of screening mammograms are currently assessed as outweighing the benefits. As a result, men are not targeted in the BreastScreen Australia program and are instead encouraged to report any changes or concerns they have about their breasts to their doctor.
What is 'over-diagnosis' from mammography screening?
For information on 'over-diagnosis' from mammography screening, please refer to the Cancer Australia Position Statement.
What is a marker clip and when will one be used?
A marker clip is a small metal clip that can be inserted into the breast to mark the site of a biopsy. The clip will remain inside the breast and is not harmful to the body.
Marker clips are not required for every biopsy. The purpose of a marker clip is to identify the physical location of tissue that may require additional surgery or future investigation. If the biopsy leads to more surgery, the marker clip will be removed at that time.
There are particular occasions where marker clips should be used when a biopsy is performed:
- When the biopsy has removed the vast majority, or the whole, of a possibly cancerous mass;
- When several biopsies have been performed in different areas of the breast;
- When the area biopsied may be difficult to identify in the future; and
- If the area biopsied may require further investigation.
If a marker clip is inserted, BreastScreen Australia will record mammographic images of the relevant breast to compare with the images prior to the biopsy.
If a marker clip is inserted following ultrasound guided biopsy, a post-marker deployment ultrasound image should be captured, and further mammographic imaging may be performed after the procedure.