Peter Jean June 25, 2012
The number of women in the ACT undergoing breast cancer screening has jumped by 30 per cent and waiting times for the scans has improved dramatically.
But many women in the target age group of 50 to 69 years are still failing to access mammograms, particularly those from indigenous backgrounds and on low incomes.
Chief Minister and Health Minister Katy Gallagher said there were almost 14,000 breast screens performed in the year to May, an increase of 3200 from the same period last year.
Almost 70 per cent of women who made a booking underwent screening within 28 days, compared with just 23 per cent the previous year.
''We are delivering more screenings and shorter waiting times to more ACT women,'' Ms Gallagher said.
About 57 per cent of women aged 50 to 69 years had a breast screen, slightly below the 2011-12 target of 60 per cent and well short of a long-term target of 70 per cent.
All women with normal results received a notification letter within 28 days of their mammogram. This was up from 23 per cent the previous year.
Ms Gallagher said the improved results had partly been made possible by the recruitment of two additional radiographers in the second half of 2011.
The ACT had also handed over responsibility for screening women from south-east NSW by NSW health authorities.
Figures published by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare show that in 2009-10 55 per cent of Australian women aged 50 to 60 participated in the BreastScreen programs.
But only about 36 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women participated.
The figures also showed participation was lower for women from the lowest socio-economic areas of residence.
Ms Gallagher said the ACT government wanted to increase the use of health services - including breast screening - by women on low incomes and from indigenous and non-English speaking backgrounds.
She hoped that increased uptake of ''well women checks'' would lead to more women undergoing breast screening.
''There's a lot of women from non-Anglo cultures here that probably won't actively go out and seek a mammogram,'' she said.
''So I would say it is on our radar so we're setting ourselves a percentage of people in that category to make sure that they're getting their regular well women checks.''
The ACT has the highest recorded rate of breast cancer in Australia. The proportion of ACT women who needed further assessment following a mammogram rose from 75 per cent to 88 per cent between May 2011 and May 2012.
Analogue mammography machines have been replaced in the ACT by digital machines which provide higher quality pictures while exposing clients to lower doses of radiation. Access to free screening through the BreastScreen program is available for women aged 40 years and above and is recommended for women aged between 50 and 69 years.